Learn About Homesteading

With our years of research and practical experience we've found many of the practical and important things you need to know to begin a homestead can be learned from others. And trial and error of course. But it's hard to know where to look online to get started so we're dedicating this page to a basic outline of homesteading to cater to both the urban and rural homesteading crowds.

Q. Where to start?

A. With a roof over your head. For most people that means a house, mobile or shared accommodation of some sort. It could also mean an RV or van, or even a tent for the most adventurous. The point is...you have to have somewhere to wash, pee, eat and sleep. That's pretty basic right? It sounds simple but of course as soon as you talk 'homesteading' you have to be thinking land. Even in an urban setting land is important, perhaps more so because you'll have to make very efficient use of your space and stick closely to a plan to be successful.

Q. Do I need to own land?

A. I know you're thinking I'm going to say "Yes"...but it's possible to rent or lease land too. There are pros and cons to both ways. We've been totally screwed by our previous landlord but we also know other people who have had no problems with theirs so it's up to you. For us personally, we want to own our own land so that we have complete control of what goes onto it, into it, and out of it. We can keep track of crops and livestock from one year to the next and have records of failures as well as things that did well. And we can reap the benefits of things like seeding pastures, composting, fencing and other improvements. It does depend of course what's available to you and you can have success even if you are renting land. We raised animals, supported a CSA garden and made a small profit for the last 2 years. Renting may be a good way to start if you do not own land and don't have the finances to buy any. But we can get into that later.

Q. What stuff do I need to buy or get?

A. If you were a peasant inheriting a farm from your parents then a lot of the tools would already be there...and farms use a lot of tools. But since we assume you are starting from scratch there are some basic items you're going to need. You will need to decide exactly what kind of farming you will do to determine the number and type of tools needed. Some of you will have the money for mechanical tools such as a tractor and implements whereas some of you will begin with hand tools and gradually acquire what you need to be productive.

Here's a basic list.

Shovel, spade, fork, rake, hoe, axe, maul, sledge hammer, bow saw, hammer, nails screws, screwdrivers, rope and string or bailing wire, wheat mill, wheel barrow or some kind of cart, rubber boots or sturdy footwear, good wool socks, a kettle and pot big enough for canning and last but certainly not least you need a good pocket knife.

Shovels, spades. Used for digging, these should be the very best quality you can buy because a good tool that fits you properly will save you backache, frustration and money in the long run. The most durable would be ones forged from a single piece of metal, not a metal head on a wooden handle and the same applies for a garden fork, one piece is more expensive but more durable and often come with a guarantee. Many different styles are available with short or long handles, flat digging edges or pointed ones. Each has a different use so do some research and decide what you want. If I was buying shovels I would buy a long handled pointed blade one, a shorter flat bladed cutting spade with a D shaped handle for digging and a wider scoop shaped shovel for mucking out large wet areas. A snow shovel works for this too.

A garden rake has many uses but for making a fine smooth seed bed it's king.

Hoes come in many styles, all you have to do is look in the gardening catalogues. For weeding the best kind have a flat wide blade that you slide just barely under the surface of the soil to loosen weed roots. It's not a chopping hoe. By loosening the roots you expose the weeds to the drying effects of nature and they die. Hoes that have a 45 degree angle can also be used to mound earth up over plants and to dig out larger weeds. Find one with a long and comfortable handle so that you don't end up bending over and straining your back. And don't work so far from your feet that you have to bend either, better to move to where the work is and stand upright.

For serious land clearing an axe is great. You can also use an axe, maul, wedge and sledge hammer for splitting logs for fences or firewood. If you can afford to maintain a chainsaw then you'll save yourself a lot of time and effort though. A bow saw is useful for cutting tree limbs or small diameter trees and takes little skill to use.

Hammers and basic hand tools like screwdrivers, drills and saws are a must. Electric or hand models are both useful and care should be taken to keep them dry and rust free. They are useful in everything from nailing together your walls or fixing a toaster. Sockets and wrenches are useful for maintenance and repairs too.

Rope. Every farmer I know uses bailing wire or string for a thousand different uses and quick fixes, it's the duct tape of the farming world. So keep yours around if you have some and if not, buy a roll from the local supply or feed store.

If you will be grinding your own flour then a wheat mill is fantastic, especially if you have a hand mill that can be used off grid or during a power outage. Here's a picture of one like mine. http://www.storefood.com/pic/whisper.jpg

A wheel barrow or garden cart for hauling soil, manure, crops, rocks etc is a must. Not everyone can afford a tractor so a wheel barrow will save your back. Having a spare tire or kit to be able to fix a flat is helpful too, especially if you're not near town. A solid tire is good too.

Boots or sturdy footwear coupled with good socks will keep your feet warm, dry and protected. Boots should keep you dry in mucky places and have a thick enough sole to protect you from thorns, wayward nails and sharp rocks. Sturdy hiking boots can be worn in summer for digging but you should wear socks to help avoid snake or other bites as much as possible.

Work gloves. I know they are not on the main list but they should be. Buy well fitting gloves and your hands will thank you. The cheaper generic one size fits all ones are ok but you deserve a pair that are a help to you, and not a pain in the butt. Spend the money on a good pair or ask for them for Christmas.

Kitchen utensils and pots are used everyday but several times you're going to want to have a bigger pot for canning. I'll leave it up to you to decide what you need and I'll discuss this in another page on home preserving later.

A good pocket knife. It should flip open and closed and have a locking mechanism so that if it's open, it won't accidentally fold closed when you're not expecting it. It should be kept clean and sharp and you'll find you use it all the time.

There are so many other power tools I'd like to ass as well as things like a first aid kit, bug repellant, soap...but then this page would become overwhelming. Once you've been working your land for a while you'll figure out which tools are most useful and which tools you want to add to your collection. The reality is that you could start a garden with a spade, rake and string, but the more projects you start the more tools you'll find you need. The mother earth news has an article but it's mostly about mechanical tools I think.

Q. How should I get started?

A. Make a plan. You've no doubt heard the phrase "those who fail to plan, plan to fail" You could just jump in and start planting things everywhere but you'd be saving yourself a lot of work and headaches if you just make a plan. Don't bite off more than you can chew. It's always better to have a smaller well tended garden than a dried out overgrown with weeds big garden. And if you're going to learn from making mistakes then smaller ones are generally better.

Q. What should my plan include?

A. I'd include the following:
Your goals for the year, what do you want to accomplish?
How much space is needed for each project?
How much time will each project to get going and to keep going?
Where is the best space for each project?
What do I need for materials to get everything started?
Am I going to sell any products and to whom?

If you are going to raise chickens lets say, you'll need to think about feeding and watering, shelter for them, butchering and getting your chicks in the first place. For a garden you'll want to consider soil fertility, amount of sun, access to water and the types of vegetables or crops to grow. And then when you get each project off and running you have to maintain it all so that includes watering veggies in a dry spell, caring for animals, perhaps milking, and if you want to travel who will do these things? Will you hire extra help or take in volunteers? Who can help you if you get sick?

Q. Can you help me?

A. Yes and No. I cannot do your work for you, but I can direct you to information. There are lots of things in the works for this website in the near future and some great books are available too. Do your research, talk to local farmers near you and online, and you can ask me questions too. Just send an e-mail. We would like to offer farm stay vacations where people can come and learn what it's like on a farm and how we do things so that they can try it out too. Once we get our own place we'll open a Homesteading Education School.

More will follow on this page soon.