Now that we're heading into the beginning of Spring (Lord willing) and projects are beginning to spurt out our eyeballs (sorry, bad imagery?), I felt it sort of important to share with you a few points of encouragement for all the new homesteaders out there. I get countless emails and messages from readers who are so eager and enthusiastic about beginning their journey to a homemade lifestyle and I think that's AWESOME.
AWESOME, I TELL YOU.
Sorry, I didn't mean to shout.
So many of these new homesteaders, however, are becoming increasingly discouraged for a variety of reasons. For some of them, it's a lack of land. For others it's money. For a lot of them, it's lack of confidence in their experiences. All of these were obstacles for us as well, at various times, in our homesteading journey. And to act as if we've got it all together now would be a complete sham.
After all, we did purchase an open cow that was sold as “bred” without preg-checking her like we should have. We've battled garden pests. And lice on our chickens. And escaped livestock. And predator losses. And a host of large, expensive mistakes in between. By all stretches of the imagination, Beatha Fonn is still in it's baby stages. That being said, I thought I'd offer a few tips and points of encouragement for others out there who are looking to get their feet wet in this madness we call micro-farming. Let's talk about starting your homestead.
5 Tips for Starting Your Homestead
Tip #1: Do what you can, where you are.
When we lived in Alabama, our house was located in the middle of a neighborhood. It was far from the rural paradise we had hoped for. What we did have was a pretty decent backyard and even though it wasn't fenced and was far too shaded for any sort of a garden, we really wanted to find a way that we could make use of the space for some sort of homesteading hobby. Chickens were out because they were too noisy and the city ordinances wouldn't allow it. Any form of vegetable was out because of the soil and the lack of sun. Bees were out because of the proximity to our house and our neighbors. Just as I was beginning to wallow in my lack-of-homesteading-misery, we were able to finally come up with a hobby we were very interested in: meat rabbits.
Meat rabbits weren't always on the top of my priority list, but it did allow me to learn a new skill and obtain new self-sufficiency knowledge in the capacity that I could do at the time. It was a rich experience and one I'm very thankful that we had.
Because we weren't able to garden in our yard, I put the word out to friends in the area that we were looking for gardening space. Sure enough, a reader welcomed me into her yard with open arms and let me tend to a large garden bed there that we built from scratch. Even though we were only able to harvest spring vegetables out of the garden by the time we decided to move back to Washington, it was another blessed experience in getting to forge a relationship with a new friend over a garden. We spent time together shoveling manure, planting seeds, and digging potatoes – it was wonderful.
Was it the incredible garden that I'd always dreamed of that would supply our family with enough food for the year? Hardly. But that wasn't the point. The point was that I was able to get my hands dirty in a small way that helped me to gain knowledge.
Starting your homestead can be done anywhere. Doing what you can where you are is a fantastic way to get started and should be encouraging to any homesteader-hopeful. Find a spare plot of land for your garden – or an even bigger plot for a hive of bees! Raise a few chickens in your suburban neighbor (pending code, of course). Learn to make cheese, even if you don't have a dairy animal yet. Read and gain knowledge on tasks you'd like to get started on. Just keep moving forward! Even if it's baby steps.
Tip #2: Be willing to learn by experience.
Had we had more experience in many of our homesteading adventures, we could have saved ourselves time, money, and tears – no doubt. That being said, experience is the best teacher, because when a lesson costs one something it immediately has a way of not being forgotten again.
One of the most expensive mistakes we made on the farm thus far was in purchasing our first dairy cow, Kula. I could have read 1,001 times in a book to get a cow preg-checked before you buy her, but until that lesson was real and costly, it meant nothing to me.
(If you think I'd ever buy a bred animal again with preg-checking them, you're a crazy fool. I've learned my lesson.)
I've read three books on raising chickens. And yet still, when one of my silkies started acting funky a few weeks ago, I had no idea how to treat her. I brought her in, kept her warm, gave her electrolytes, and cuddled her. Four days later, I finally realized that there were lice crawling all over her (which I, naturally, misdiagnosed as mites). I knew of diatomaceous earth as a preventative measure, but I had no idea how to treat such a bad infestation. Flash forward five days and I finally found a treatment that worked effectively (albeight with chemicals).
I could have read about mites and lice and diatomaceous earth and insecticides all day long without knowing what it looked like, how it acted, and how to treat it. As my husband noted, “unfortunately, there's always the one animal you've got to learn your lessons on.”
Experience teaches us. Big time. However, for starting your homestead, you've got to be willing to put yourself out there and be willing to make mistakes. It's quite embarrassing to write about all the mistakes that I've made on the farm – but the difficulty and the embarrassment teach me permanent lessons, which is an incredible blessing.
Tip #3: Final local people who know what the heck they're doing.
This is a hard one, for an introvert like myself, but when I'm enthusiastic about something I can usually make it happen. A few months ago, we went to a local pumpkin patch just a mile down the road from us. We wandered through the patch, picking out our pumpkins (as one does as a pumpkin patch) and went up to the make-shift booth to pay for our bounty. I began to chat with the farmer at the booth and ask him questions about his planting schedule, land, and pumpkins.
As the conversation progressed, I learned he raised hogs.
And after he learned that we had a dairy cow, he was enthusiastic that he'd found some young people who were interested in farming.
We left that day with a stash of pumpkins and some gifted sausage and pork chops from his freezer. Since then, we've purchased tons of produce from his large gardens, lots of excellent alfalfa hay for Sal from his fields, and even two piglets from one of his sows.
I've had at least a dozen experiences with farmers, bakers, beekeepers, and ranchers in our area just like this – they're usually always eager to share their products and their knowledge and I'm eager to soak it up and find further fantastic sources for our food. It takes effort. It takes face-to-face human interaction (wait? do people still do that?). It's absolutely invaluable for the homesteader.
Build a community.
Tip #4: Chill out.
So you don't have the money to purchase those bee hives this year. That's okay!
So you didn't get the pig pasture put together in time for summer hogs. Ain't no shame in it!
So your garden totally got ransacked by the racoons and all you have left is a half-eaten zucchini. Such is life!
You've GOT. TO. CHILL. OUT.
Please note: I write this one for myself as much as anyone else out there reading.
Early on in our farm's history, my husband gently (but firmly) reminded me that farming is an organic process full of organic life – which, as we all know, is anything but mechanical. Things HAPPEN. And it's absolutely essential that you learn how to roll with the punches, lest you suffer a heart-attack at least every other day. Because the reality is, when it comes to starting your homestead, crops will fail. Animals will die. Money will run out. You will become frustrated. Learn to take it on the chin and keep pressing forward.
Tip #5: Go slow.
I know you want bees, chickens, pigs, cows, horses, a partridge, and a pear tree. But try, just for a moment, to take a deeeeeep breath. While I'm a firm believer in jumping in and getting your hands dirty, there's also a lot to be said for just taking things one step at a time. Don't think that because progress is slow it's insignificant. Working slow and steadily through each new project on the homestead helps to make sure that your feet are on solid ground before moving to the next task at hand – as frustrating as this can be for those go-getters out there.
But take a few moments. Think about your decisions. Plan them out. See the bigger picture.
It's far from an exhausted list, but I hope this at least offers you all some encouragement. By all means, get out there and go start your homestead! Gain experience, knowledge, and know-how. Tackle this world one homegrown vegetable at a time! And be encouraged. All of us were complete novices at one point and all of us had to start from ground-zero.
Which means there's no where to go but up, baby.
So enjoy it!
More of my posts on homesteading:
- Great Benefits of Homesteading
- Inviting My Children to a Food Revolution
- Welcome to the Farm
- Why We Homestead