5 Things to Consider Before Starting a Homestead
Happy Friday! Instead of our usual Homestead Update, I thought I'd do a fun little informative post about our experience in the second summer season of homesteading. We often get questions from readers about how to get started like, how much does it really cost? How do you keep rabbits from eating all of your lettuce? How do I keep chickens alive? and everything in between. You guys can ask some crazy questions, but we love them, and we love helping you figure out how to live a simpler, wholesome, happy life. It's why we share what we love here with you! Just like any hobby, homesteading comes with a lot of baggage that you might now expect like up front costs, heavy losses, and more. Read on!
Making Room for Unexpected Costs
I think we all know that homesteading is costly, or perhaps some of us do not. When we first dove into homesteading, we knew that some things would be expensive, namely the garden. But we assumed that once everything began flowing that our costs would lessen, and we would save more money than shopping at the grocery store. This is essentially true, but not in the first few years. Starting up a homestead is expensive. You can read more about how much we spent homesteading in our first year on less than half an acre here. Start up costs are expensive. If you are starting from the bare bones, it's important to remember that all of the tools and supplies can be pricey like garden tools, fencing, seed starting, livestock equipment, irrigation, livestock feed, and amending your soil. Those are just a few things!
It's going to be really hard in the beginning. When we started, we had just moved for the fourth time, and we didn't have any yard tools like rakes, shovels, cultivators, hoses, or even a lawn mower. We didn't use or need any of those things in Texas. It was a lot of cost up front to get all of that started, but we knew that the end reward was worth it. The thing with start up costs is that they most often are a one-time deal, and that makes life easier. For instance, most irrigation equipment (if you buy a higher quality product) will last you for several years if you take good care of them. Livestock equipment is similar (i.e. feeders, waterers, coops, heat lamps, etc). That means your cost is going to lower over time, and you will eventually reach a point where you are saving money by producing your own over purchasing from the grocery!
Having the Time to Work
I think a lot of people see beautiful photos of homesteading, and while they do realize it's a lot of work, also assume that a "simplistic" lifestyle is just that... simple! I can tell you that while parts of it are, the work side of things can be heavy. The idea of living more simply is not in the work load but in the ideals of the work that you do. It is not stressful, there are no demands of production or deadlines (well... sometimes!). It is hands in the dirt, open skies, and plants galore. It is finding joy in your work. If you cannot find joy in the simple complexity of gardening or keeping some laying hens, then perhaps homesteading is not for you.
It takes time to garden, to grow plants from seeds, to feed and water hens, to clean up after animals. It's work that can seem never ending because it is. Each time I clean the coop, I swear I turn right around and it's filled with chicken crap again. Cleaning up poop is my life, but I find the hens worth it for that price. I would rather clean up chicken poop a few times a week than sit behind a desk. Why? Maybe it's because I sweat a little when I do it; I don't have to go to a gym. Maybe it's because that poop, while gross, will eventually break down and feed my plants for free. Maybe it's because I feel connected to the earth when I do it, when I turn chicken manure into compost to create a balance instead of adding to the pounds of waste on our planet.
I don't think that this means that homesteading will take up all of your time. You can still have a regular job and be a homesteader; you just may not be able to a lot of different things, especially if you are the only person putting in the work (which can totally happen if your family is gung-ho at first and then loses interest). Chickens can be kept easily with a regular job, and a garden can be tended to. Just expect to spend most of your off-time out working the homestead! If you easily forget about plants or animals, then figure out what your strengths are and/or set alarms and reminders for yourself.
Planning Meals Around a Garden
Most people who grow a garden want to provide themselves with their own food. What is often missed is that you spend a lot more time in the kitchen than you did before! One of the biggest problems I had last year was figuring out what to do with all of the new vegetables we were bringing in. The harvests were always a lot more than I expected and much more than we would typically buy from the grocery store. This meant that we had to figure out how to incorporate that produce into meals, store it, or decide to toss it into the compost. Some vegetables can withstand not being harvested for long periods of time like root crops. Others like lettuce, greens, zucchini, tomatoes, and peas need to be harvested on a consistent schedule to ensure that the produce is quality. Before starting a giant garden, make sure that you do your research on how to cook with that vegetable or fruit as well as how to store it for the long term so that you can enjoy the produce you don't get to eating right away. Look into learning how to can or which freezer options are the best for you! One thing we did not take into account was the cold storage needed for our veggies. Last year we had to buy an extra freezer to store everything, and this year we've had to invest in a second fridge (though we're growing for a lot more people now than just ourselves!).
Preventing Critters From Destroying Your Hard Work
Critters are everywhere on the farm. We did not deal with them so much at our residential homestead, but they still come. Preventing pests from attacking the garden and our livestock is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive, and it kind of cracks me up. Though I know that it is a real issue that many worry about! Before you dive into cutting out a huge garden or bringing home a flock of chickens, you will want to evaluate which kinds of wildlife are living around your property, what you don't want to invite in (because you will), and how exactly you plan to manage them. Deer, rabbits, snakes, coyotes, owls, and raccoons can really hurt your production. That part sucks the life right out of you!
One thing that we've noticed living out here in the country is that 1. there are 5 times as many critters and 2. everyone has a dog. I wondered for the longest time why the Amish did not put fences up around their vegetable gardens as the rabbits and deer runt rampant. But they all have guard dogs that roam free at night. It finally clicked! I always thought it was the marigolds. Maybe it is. Since we do not have a dog (though you never know) we decided to put a chicken wire fence around the garden. We know that it won't keep absolutely everything out. In fact, it's more there to keep the chickens from entering the garden. It also deters the rabbits from what I have witnessed. The deer are another story.
The moral of the story is that if you plan to grow things or raise livestock, be sure to know what might approach them and plan for it in advance. Put the fence up before you plant the veggies!
Don't Do It All At Once
One thing I am glad for when we started the Little Homestead was we dove in slowly. I think a lot of people think we jumped in a head first and in ways we did. I had originally wanted to garden, do cut flowers behind the greenhouse, add a beehive, raise chickens, and started a mini orchard. It was a lot to try. We decided that the vegetable garden and chickens would be enough to try for one summer, and we were right. It was the perfect amount for us... 1300 square feet to grow in and six little chickens. I am so happy that we experienced that before buying the farm for one simple reason: I was able to learn and enjoy it all slowly.
This year has been a little wild already. While I knew that the market garden would be a full time job, I didn't really think about the fact that I wouldn't get to know my livestock as well this time around. Right now we have 23 laying hens, 2 roosters, 8 ducks, and 5 cats. We're considering adding a dog to the mix, maybe guineas, and I want to hatch chicks once the girls start laying. We also have a hive of honeybees! While I am so grateful for it all, it's been a lot of chew on for one year.
My advice to anyone who is completely knew to homesteading is to take it one step at a time, literally. Start a garden. Enjoy it, learn from it, reap the rewards at your own pace. Then add chickens. Then the bees. It can be overwhelming, and if you want that close knit relationship with your flock or anything like that, you have to spend a lot of time with them. These chickens, while I love them no matter what, don't know me very well. I don't have that hour a day to sit and hold each of them... There's 25 too many! Take it slow!
I don't mean to say any of this to deter you. Homesteading is hard, but it's not impossible. I think for the most part it's realizing where your priorities stand, what you can afford, and how much time you have to dedicate yourself to it all. It can be done with a low budget, little time and effort, and even all at once. Take us for example! While I can get overwhelmed with the amount of chores I have, I wouldn't trade any of it. It's my job and it's my passion. I get to do both! That's the beauty of homesteading.