I would assume that most people reading this are either homesteaders or folks with homesteading in their heart. I believe we have chosen a very rocky road to tread down. Mainstream life in the second decade of the 21st century isn’t about the basics of life and the simple things. I know all I can do with my cell phone is make a phone call. How can I feel so outdated when I’m at the mid-point of life? Homesteading just seems to get into our blood, whether from heredity or from a shot of there-has-to-be-a-better-way. Once we are infected, we sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to hard work to see our vision come into reality.
Having personally made the choice, it was time to begin the initial phase. To start, we needed a location for the grand adventure, and to gather supplies and knowledge. We traveled around the West Coast and spent hours upon hours on the Internet. In August 2004, we bought 23 acres in northeast Washington. Actually, we purchased it sight unseen. Now, this could have been our biggest mistake, but we were fortunate that it was a wise decision.
The preparation and gathering time was an enjoyable period. I shopped the thrift stores on an almost-daily basis and attended garage sales on the weekends. The stuff we acquired was amazing. Yes, we even got the kitchen sink. This did, however, put us in the position of having to transport everything 850 miles. We saw an advertisement for an old Lowenbrau beer truck, for cheap. With a camouflage paint job and a little servicing, the truck was ready for the first trip to relocate our newly-gathered treasures.
With the months turning to years we were able to relocate in September of 2007. Within the previous three years, our raw land had transformed into the beginnings of a homestead. Clocking in about 6,800 miles and four trips later, we had the well and electricity in, the shell of a 386-square-foot dwelling built, plus five fruit trees rooted in the ground. Now, the adventure comes to fruition with reality smacking us in the face.
I knew I had integrated into the country-homesteader lifestyle when I turned in my leather Birkenstocks for a pair of hand-me-down plastic Crocs. You’d think the natural leather would be the preferred choice, but hosing the manure off the plastic is a lot easier. With that being said, I’m now in the position to give my suggestions on pitfalls to avoid when homesteading.
One of the most important aspects of jumping into the adventure of homesteading is to be sure that everyone involved is on the same page. During your preparatory time, take notice if someone isn’t pulling their weight on required accomplishments. Chances are when the tough times hit—which they will—they’ll fall short on the mission. Everyone needs to be aware of the sacrifices and hard work that is required to harvest the bounty. When we started with the concept of creating Sunshine Acres we had a total of twelve individuals involved and four generations of family. Well, as of Spring 2012, myself and my 22-year-old son remain on the property working to keep things afloat here.
TIP: Be sure to have honest, open communication on the vision and desires that you are trying to create.
I normally agree with the notion of just doing something when you don’t know what to do. When it comes to homesteading, I’ve found that it can be a dangerous sentiment. You may create more headaches for yourself, plus waste time, labor, and money. Do your research and planning; if it still feels right, then go for it. If you’re just bulldozing your way through to get it done, then stop and reassess.
TIP: Do it right the first time even if it takes you longer.
It’s a great joy to have the freedom to build and design what you choose to have on your homestead. In every aspect you can use your creativity to reflect who you are. We started with a 16×24 stick-built house on piers with a slant roof. In the original design plans, the core structure had wings added on in each direction. I even made a clay model to scale of the entire finished home.
Before things fell entirely apart here we managed to get the east addition built. It is a beautiful 20×22 cordwood structure with a gorgeous oak and stained glass front door. The door was a throw away from a high scale remodeling job that we claimed as our own. We cutout the deteriorated panels and refinished it, then made stained-glass panels to inset into the door.
The majority of the house has been built that way. We gathered everything: kitchen cabinets, scrap tile pieces, roofing material, surplus paint, and laminate flooring. This whole article could be about how we built our lovely country home for $15.00 a square foot.
Our mistake with the cordwood was using rounds instead of split logs. The soft-wood rounds checked very badly once in place; needless to say, I have a very well ventilated room. Yes, we did it our way.
TIP: If you need to reinvent the wheel then do it on a test or small project.
My biggest haunt of, “oops, I did that” is waiting for all of my fencing to fall down. I did all the research and found different methods of preserving wooden posts. There are traditional ways, inexpensive methods, and, of course, ways to do it if you are gardening organically, which I am. Somehow this information fell by the wayside when we installed the garden fence, then again on the orchard fence, and I still managed to forget to preserve the poles for the 100-pound wooden-slab picnic table. At the entrance of our driveway, we erected an archway with a stained glass sign displaying “Sunshine Acres”. With high winds this past fall, it all came crashing down due to deteriorated wooden posts that were not preserved and did not have proper water runoff on the piers.
TIP: Preserve wooden posts and have proper drainage away from the post.
I would like to take some time to touch on a personal note. I’ve always been an advocate of a to-do list. They actually provide me with peace of mind. Instead of those things continually running through my head, I can write them down then release it until it’s time to take action. The tricky side of this is being content to sleep soundly even though your list isn’t completed for the day. Trust me, very rarely will you complete a to-do list if it contains all those projects to accomplish. When you’ve done the best you can do for that day, let it go and have sweet dreams. The number-one key to successful homesteading is to have flexibility. Start with an idea and remain fluid because some how things just don’t go as planned.
TIP: Don’t stress over an incomplete to do list and always remain flexible.
Our additional family members are a 120-pound black Lab and an adorable Golden Retriever. The highlight of their day is to sit patiently and listen for the critters underground. When they catch wind of them, away they go, with all their might, digging to China. Well it’s pretty obvious you have rodents in the ground when your dog approaches you with a furry little critter hanging from it’s mouth. So, you’d think we were wise enough to put hardware cloth under the root balls of our fruit trees when we planted them. Needless to say, it was one more thing that eluded us. Fifteen fruit and nut trees were a wonderful beginning of an orchard, but sadly, we are down to four trees.
TIP: When your location has gophers or voles, use a barrier material to prevent them from eating the roots of the young trees.
On a cold blustery day, with snow on the ground I find I want to walk as little as necessary. With this in mind, my choice is to put the animal pens downwind and as close as possible to the house. Everyone always says to put the garden closest. I much prefer to walk the distance to the garden on a beautiful spring or summer day as opposed to having to walk further on a winter’s day to tend livestock. Another benefit of this is when your outside water system is drained because of freezing temperatures, you don’t have as far to go when hauling water to the pens.
TIP: Keep livestock pens as close to the house as possible when residing in cold climates.
Even though things were teetering very precariously last spring, I held the faith of things working out. I ordered four pairs of goslings for expansion of the homestead. All babies are a joy to have around. The little goslings matured through the seasons and I had a choice to make. My high hopes weren’t enough to hold things together here. Finding myself alone, I needed to downsize the chores as much as possible. I chose to eliminate tending to the geese through the winter and turn them into a commodity. I found a couple that raised and butchered a high volume of chickens and asked them to do the deed for me. They responded with, “Yeah, we should be able to do that”. Well, after four birds were down, they called me to come pick up the other four; apparently plucking waterfowl isn‘t like plucking chickens. So much for eliminating that chore. I ran electricity out to their coop for a heated water bucket, which did make things easier.
TIP: Require someone to have experience when they are doing a important job for you.
I remember reading an article with a picture of an abandoned house foundation. The article spoke on how things change; details are overlooked and the dream of homesteading falls short of ever seeing reality. I feel very blessed that we got as far as we did before the breakup. I now sit on a beautiful piece of property with a home and all the necessary infrastructure. Surrounding me is a large, fenced garden which contains edible perennials and 60 different species of culinary and medicinal herbs, with the balance reserved for annuals. The fenced orchard has a berry patch along with mints and roses. The chickens are good girls laying about six dozen eggs a week. The geese are busy enlarging their gaggle. The bees are buzzing in search of nectar to produce their heavenly honey. I’ve built a worm palace and hope to sell worm castings.
My ideas of how to expand this property are endless. I can see the masonry oven producing the finest golden-brown bread in the county. I can see the people attending the classes on soap making, herbal preparations, candle making, etc. I can see the families staying at the campsites down in the four acres of trees. I can see the musicians playing after the crowd has dined on local grown food
Honestly speaking, I believe it has to be the power of intent and my strong desire to be a flourishing homesteader that allows things to continually go forward. A perfect example of this is the greenhouse that now houses my 400 seedlings. It was obtained from a bartering deal negotiated by my stepfather. Hopefully my vision is clear enough that I can withstand the negative adversity that I’m experiencing. I plan to continue my chosen lifestyle of an American homesteader and I won’t quit unless all the cows come home.