Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Homestead: Search Adventures

We have all seen Real estate For Sale signs along roads and streets as we drive along. They can lead to the dream home or property or a nightmare. It is interesting how people look at things, some with endless optimism and some with a hard look at reality. I think Ralph and I are in the middle somewhere.

We have learned a lot though and now look at property in a much more detailed way. In our search we have developed a set of questions and a set of tools.
We now understand the Term Fixer Upper has a very wide parameter!

Fixer Upper...with some love and elbow grease you can restore this lovely old home to its former glory!

  The term fixer upper scares us now...right to our toenails! One of the very first properties we looked at had a "fixer upper"on it. We know we can deal with minor repairs or basic repairs but if a home has not been lived in for some time and grown up with brambles it is going to cost a fortune to repair. 

  We ask if the Mineral rights convey?  You want to own your property, all of your property. Check if the owner is selling the surface rights and timber rights. We learned to check this thoroughly, one property we liked very much and we had on our list to visit was a case of an owner not wanting to give up anything that paid, he retained the Mineral rights, the timber rights and the rights and income from a Cell tower on the property, he also wanted to maintain hunting right for his friends. Scratch that place of the list.

  Timber rights can be an adventure. We want some woodland on our potential property. One of the most beautiful properties we came across taught us to ask, first if the timber rights convey and second has the land been timbered and how recently. 
  This Property had a nice website with lots of information. It had photos of a lovely wooded section with great trails through massive trees. The website stated the Mineral and Timber rights convey!  Ralph had an extra day off one weekend so we thought we would drive down and look this place over...it was so lovely and fit so many points on our list!
 When we arrived the Realtor met us at the gate. He was friendly and loaded us into his SUV for a land tour. We drove long the tree lined driveway and around a lovely bend in the road to be shocked at the sight of a massive logged area. It had been clear cut, it was a mess and I think one of the worst logging jobs I have ever seen. Tree stumps were torn up and the small trees just run over and left. I actually gasped at the sight!
The Realtor had never mentioned the place had been logged and he dropped the price $50,000.00 as soon as we saw the devastation. Now we ask about logging and when and if it has been cleaned up and restored, also if it has been logged to what size of tree, have they left any young trees?

Logging leftovers [Image from Google]

 Mineral rights are another path you want to look into. Our first searches were done in West Virginia.Mineral rights are crucial in that state due to the mining Industry. Find out if all the mining has been done and if the Mineral rights are available or have been used. We looked at a lovely parcel, 147 acres. It had been strip mined but extremely well reclaimed and restored.
 It still had a wooded area on one side and had a lot of potential. We assumed since it had been strip mined we would not face any mining issues. We thought we could drill a well for water and our ideas started to flow! On the way back down the road the land was on we met a farmer with and enormous water tank. Ralph pulled over and stopped and found he was turning into a gate not far from the land we looked at. Ralph though it would be a good idea to talk to him. He was quite a source of information, none of it good. 
 Yes the land had been strip mined but it had not had some areas deep mined. He got rather agitated just talking about the mining! The mining company had just deep mined under his land...he had three drilled wells that supplied water to his pastures. When the miners came to the well casings of his wells they just cut them off and he lost all three wells. Now he has to haul water for all his livestock and his home. There is no restitution as he did not own the mineral rights!  It was a disturbing thing to learn! Scratch that potential property off the list.
Deep Drilled Well with casing into bed rock

 Surprise neighbors can be a consideration. We have looked and researched a lot or land in all sorts of condition. We use Google Maps and they are a wonderful tool to find out all sorts of things, but the imagery is not new, sometimes it is actually quite old. Some buildings that show up on Google are no longer there, sometimes things that are not on Google spring up as a surprise! We have accepted offers on the land we are selling....this has lead to a number of land tours. When the deals fell through we of course were disappointed but we have to look at the good things....these land tours continue to teach us a lot about land selection.
 We are concerned about things like landfills, industrial agriculture feeding operations and of  course power lines. Early in our research we had not started to use Google Maps. I am not sure why but it was a resource we did not take advantage of. 
  We had an offer and then decided while we were waiting to see if it worked out we took a land tour. Three properties in Kentucky, all a good size and a fair price. It was going to be a great trip! We had checked all our information concerning mineral rights, timber, house condition and age, acreage, buildings, wooded land, open land, fencing....you know the list! The first property was really nice but the road in front of it was super busy. We had not found out it was a bigger highway.
  Okay next property, we found the road it was on and as we drove along with about 4 miles to go we started to smell something...yes Hog barn. There really is nothing like it for a strong horrible smell. It had to be close...so was the property according to our directions. It was a horrible shock to find both the property and the hog barn at the same time! 6  commercial hog barns right across the road from the farm that we were interested in. Well that was that! This property was eliminated. On the way home Ralph kept wondering how we had missed that...then he thought about using Google maps to see the country. It has been a marvelous tool.

Commercial Hog barns, Satellite Imagery from Google Maps.

One more property to go, now we are a bit paranoid, what are we going to find this time. The third property on this trip turned out to be a good one. A quiet road, a lovely home, good buildings, a perfect field for the gardens and a SOLD sticker on the Realtors sign!

Yes looking for the right land is a big job with all sorts of pitfalls and challenges but it is how we learn. The delay in getting a property has been frustrating but it has also been a blessing. We are so much smarter now and we know the right questions to ask. We have tools that help us research more than just the land.

As to us and the current Buyer...we are still waiting and trying to be stoic about it all.
Our plans are still evolving and we continue to learn. Bless you all as we cruise down the highway to the perfect homestead!



It's tomato sauce making time!  A saucy update from our garden.

Yes you have seen this photo before, I have however just finished making sauce from a pure batch of the Sutton White Tomatoes. Well worth the effort. Mild and smooth I think it will come in handy when I want to make something like Spinach lasagna or anything I don't really want to be red but would love to have tomato flavor in.

An Orange Oxheart that was an integral part of my orange tomato sauce. It turned out well and is a lovely rich flavor and a really pretty deep orange. It was the same color as this tomato until I added the basil and oregano. The old house smells so "Italian", like I should have a pizza oven in the corner and be breaking out the vino!

Here are some examples of the sauces from our tomatoes...I call the red one "Everybody in The Pool Sauce". It has, well, everybody in it! Zeke Dishman, Vinson Watts, Zapotec, Basin Mountain Tommy Toes, Black Pear, Reisentraub, Peron, Peru, Jerusalem, Grant County Pink, Jack Millar Australian Heart and Worley Red! It is quite a mixture and has an unreal flavor deep, rich and tangy. It is going to be so good in the cold of winter. Just to remind us of summer Tomatoes!

Left to right: Sutton White Sauce, Orange Oxheart Sauce and of course "Everybody in The Pool" sauce!

Happy harvesting everyone!


Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Garden update just for fun

We have peanuts! Yes our crazy experiment with peanuts seems to have worked out. Ralph couldn't stand it any longer and dug a few plants from the end of the row by the shed and all the plants had some decent sized peanuts on them. The most were on the Red Valenicas! Now we have to leave them in a dry cool place to cure.
Red Valencia peanuts
We will leave the rest in the ground for a while longer as the weather is good here right now. It might seem pretty ordinary to grow peanuts to some southern folk but to this Northerner it is akin to a miracle!

We also picked another 25 pounds of tomatoes and I am making sauce, one batch of just the Sutton White. I think it will be unusual and quite pretty, a pale creamy white with of course flecks of fresh basil and oregano. They are exceptionally juicy which is interesting. My previous batches of sauce have been "everybody in the pool" mixes.

Ralph is busy picking beans right now so they will be blanched and frozen. It really is a delight to still be harvesting from our weird little experimental farm out back.

Dade Beans, they are amazing!

Oh we also have decent sized sweet potatoes and have some of  them dug and curing for winter storage.

I know this winter when it is cold and snowing and I go to the pantry and get some sweet potatoes to bake, cook some green beans and make a casserole it will remind me of the summer and the garden!

Oh did I mention the Pink Banana Squash? I have dehydrated one, there are these three that were ready to pick and there are who know how many still out there...and they seem to show up all over the place. They store extremely well and dehydrate nicely.

Pink Banana Squash

Now I had better get back to work......Take care everyone and be Thankful for our fall bounty and the  blessings we have!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Homestead Livestock: Chickens

We both love chickens. This has caused us a certain amount of grief with our homestead plans. There are so  many wonderful chicken breeds available today.
We evaluated the the requirement of our potential flock.

First they have to be an old breed, one that is tried and true. They have to be dual purpose, perhaps leaning to the heavy breeds. We want quiet chickens that are friendly and calm to work with. They have to be able to forage for a lot of their food. The hens should be broody and able to raise chicks to replenish our flock and supply meat birds without introducing the risk of outside birds coming onto the property. We would like decent but not overwhelming egg production.
 Pullet eggs from a friends young hens.

We do not want to raise commercial meat birds, yes they grow  at an incredible rate but we want birds that grow at a more natural pace and have few if any leg problems. It may take more time but the end product will be worth it. Homestead chickens have always been multi use birds, our pioneer ancestors could not have had it any other way.

Ralph has had a lot of Black Australorpe chickens over the years and my experience has been with crossbred chickens and some Golden Laced Wyandotte.

Black Australorpe

The Black Australorpe have passed the test of time for Ralph so they are # 1 on our Chicken list. He found them to be quiet, meaty, broody and just generally very nice chickens. They lay well  [nice brown eggs] and seem to be quite healthy. He had them in North Carolina and they were not bothered by the heat and humidity and we have talked to people who have them in the north and they do just fine in cold weather too.

Now it gets harder, we wanted more than just one breed as we hope to use chickens as a way to enrich our land and keep areas grazed down by natural means. There are so many breeds to choose from. One of our main resources has been The American Livestock breeds Conservancy.

They introduced us to some wonderful heritage breeds that suit our needs and need our help to avoid disappearing from modern agriculture. I found the Buckeye Chicken very interesting. They became # 2 on our poultry list.  They are a large breed and are noted for being developed by a woman. They are named for their home state of Ohio. These chickens are really friendly and will go broody with both parents being involved in chick rearing. They can be excellent mousers. They lay large brown eggs.

Buckeye Chickens [Google Image]

Buff Orpington made the initial list coming in at # 3. They are an old breed and noted for being the color of a gold watch. Gentle, they are broody and good mothers. They are quite social and friendly. They lay large pale brown eggs. 

Buff Orpington
 The Buff Orpington will fit well in our poultry plans. They meet all our criteria and have the bonus of complementing the Black Australorpe...imagine gold and black chicken's running around the orchard?  Just lovely!  The Buckeyes will be near the barn keeping rodents down and cleaning up after the goats and sheep!

Now the problems start. Do we need more chickens? No not really but there are several breeds that are endangered or critical, we think it would be nice to raise some of them to help save them. We will have to evaluate how things go and what kind of property we get.

Here are the other breeds we really like: 

There are a lot of great chicken sites on the internet, here are some of the ones we use.

Our homestead chickens are going to be busy. Of course when you have chickens you have eggs. There are just the two of us so we hope to be able to have a small egg business to get rid of the excess eggs. The roosters of course will be used for meat with the exception of the best of them for breeding. The "meat" birds will be chicken tractored across pasture to help increase the soil quality. If we have room for some grass cattle the chickens will follow them to spread manure and control flies. 

The hens will be used to control bugs and graze the orchard and areas that need grass control. They will be housed in houses on wheels so we can move them around as needed.  The barn flock will be permanently housed near the goats and sheep.We plan on using electric netting to control the areas the chickens roam and in winter relocate them to more permanent areas for  warmth and shelter from the elements.

Portable chicken coop [Image from PAllenSmith]

Initially we plan on a large flock to get started on our food security and storage. We have discussed canning and freezing chicken so we can have a years supply on hand. We hope to experiment with dried/jerked chicken and other means of long term storage of meat. We also want to have a supply of Schmaltz on hand. I hesitate to render the fat from commercial chickens, there is just to much unknown about how the commercial feed affects their fat but home grown farm birds should produce wonderful results.

Of course we will enjoy fresh chicken and any birds that are too flighty or aggressive will make stew or soup.

And the last job the chickens have will be therapy for the farmers!  I have always enjoyed watching chickens and seeing their interaction with the world around them. They say laughter is the best medicine and I know watching silly chickens always makes me laugh and generally feel much better!  This is just a glimpse of our plans for chickens and we enjoy finding out more and fine tuning our plans...of course a lot of these plans have to be a bit flexible as they may change with the property we eventually get. It is good to have basics in your  mind though. Plan now and have fun selecting your Chicken assistants for your homestead.

... ...

Homestead, Tools

Now your standing there looking at a beautiful piece of land, well fenced to keep critters out and you have spent hours poring  over seed selection. The next step is land preparation. For this your going to need tools. This has been one of the hardest things we have worked on.  I am like a  magpie..if it is shiny I want it! Do you realize how much shiny chrome, stainless steel and polished aluminum is in the garden section of a Hardware store?

We knew we wanted good quality tools that would last us for our lifetime. We knew we would need basic tools such as hoes, spades, trowels and the like but there are a lot of new designs and kinds of tolls that are tempting to try. We will need carts, wheel barrows and hoses. Making a list of tools was daunting. What do we really need, should we go with tried and true or should we try new and modern?

We will need hand tools and machinery such as a Tiller of some kind.
Yes Make a list

1- A power Unit

Do you want a small tractor or a two wheel walk behind tractor?  Ralph has an ancient Troy Bilt Tiller that he got brand new in 1986. It still does a wonderful job but it is getting old.

The Old Troybilt.

We know its days are limited so we are going to get a new Tiller. The old machine will be retired to work the smaller area of our kitchen and herb garden.

These Rear tined tillers have come a long way since 1986 and there are new and much bigger ones available. They come with a wide assortment of soil working attachments as well as things to cut hay, bush hog, chip and shred and even split wood. 

We looked into several makes and found a place called earthtools that sells and services and incredible assortment of Walk behind tractors and accessories for them.

Grillo 131 Diesel Walk Behind [Photo from Earthtools]

 This kind of machinery is a large investment so we wanted to get something that would last as well as be versatile for multiple uses. This Grillo is diesel and will run a generator as well as do all the basic garden and homestead work.

We also looked into small tractors. There are a lot of brands available so take your time and look around. Mahindra  tractors are well respected and of course there is Kubota, Kioti, Branson, and then the old Stand bys like Massey Ferguson and John Deere.  

For our needs the Walk behind tractors seemed more suited. The wide range of accessories gave them an advantage. The key is finding a power unit that meets your needs. There is a lot of good used equipment out there too. So again look around, you may be surprised at what you find.

2- Small and hand tools

Of course the other tools you will need also require an operator...you! Handtools, everyone has some of these, a shovel, a hoe perhaps? The key to getting hand tools is make sure they 'fit' you. Ralph bought me the most beautiful hoe for my birthday ages ago.  

I had a small cheap one I had found on sale at our hardware store. It was not top of the line but I liked it and the price was right. He surprised me with this fabulous high quality hoe. It is heavy and cuts weed so easily but it is way too big for me. The handle is too long and it makes hoeing very difficult for  me. I call it the MAN hoe. He can use it for ages and it "fits" him!

Ralph digging the hills for the peanuts with "The Man Hoe"

 You will need different tools for the bigger gardens that you will need for raised beds or your Kitchen garden. The three most useful small hand tools are a Trowel, a Small handfork and perhaps a small rake. There are many designs out there, some built for hand comfort some for weed removal so look into all types and find ones you like and that fit your hand and the job your doing with them.

Hand trowel

The basic set of bigger tools you will need are a Spade, a Spading Fork and a Hoe. We think these three tools will do almost all the hand work that needs doing.

The Spades come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes. They can be inexpensive or High cost, again evaluate your needs and how long these tools will have to be used. Gardentool.com is a wonderful site to learn more and to wallow in shiny garden tools! 

 Garden Spade 
 A hoe is an important tool for any gardener, they chop weeds, they pull earth to make hills and they earn their keep. Make sure the hoe you buy fits your hand, height and ability. I know that from the man hoe experience!

 Standard Hoe
There are a lot of different shaped hoes, we like the standard hoe, we just find it more versatile and an all around tool.  A tool that is too job specific is not always a good investment. If you are not using a tool it is both a waste of space and money.

We have a basic list of bigger tools.

A spade
A round mouth shovel
A rake
An axe
A pick
A garden fork or spading fork
A small saw
A mattock
A garden cart
A wheelbarow
A pair of garden shears

Of course this set of tools changes now and then when one breaks or wears out. Good tools are well worth the investment, they make your work easier and less frustrating. To have a successful homestead garden you need you be able to get a lot of work done and done well. Weeds are always lurking and keeping your garden soils well cared for helps you garden reach its top potential. The tools of the trade will get your garden growing!


Homestead gardening...Please Fence me In!

We all seem to have images in our head of the beautiful plank fences of Kentucky surrounding fields filled with Thoroughbred horses.
They are wonderful fences but do they hold anything out? Rabbits, Deer, digging dogs?  Garden fence has a different purpose than perimeter or livestock fencing. It keeps things out of your vegetables  or Orchard or herbs!

Ralph and I have looked at all sorts of Garden fence designs and have decided our garden fence will have two purposes. [1] To keep things like deer and assorted critter's out of the garden and [2] Give us one more source of trellis for some of the climbing things we seem to grow.

Types of fence that we looked into.

Chain Link
6' foot high Chain Link Fence [Google Image]
Chain Link fence is beautiful to look at, reasonably easy to put up and is dog and even cat proof for the most part. If it is high enough it keeps out anything. It comes in various heights and grades. Homewyse
has an excellent fence price calculator and we used it to find out cost on 100 linear feet of 6' high Chain Link fence installed ourselves. It came to $1,141.23.
This quote seems high at first but when you evaluate the lifetime of the fence and the security of your garden it is worth while.

Deer Fence

 8' Deer Fence  [Google Image]

Also known as Fixed Knot Woven wire this is very durable fence...it of course will keep deer out of your garden but smaller animals can crawl thought the mesh. If you use this fence you will need a secondary fence on the lower section of the fence to keep the small critters out. We considered this fence and thought we could add a 3 foot section of chicken wire along the bottom. 
96" 330 foot rolls of   Fixed Knot Woven wire cost runs from $351.00 per roll and up. Kencove Farm and Fence supplies are an excellent resource for fence information and supplies.  http://www.kencove.com/

Stockade fencing or Privacy Fence

Stockade fencing [image from Premier Fence]

Ahh  beautiful wooden Stockade fencing. It is beautiful and secure and keeps everything out. It is also expensive and high maintenance. The Homewyse price quote on 100 linear feet of this fence put up ourselves came to $1667.00.  This fence will require either stain or paint and it will need to have the paint redone to keep the fence in good shape.

Chicken Wire or Galvanized Hex Netting

 Chicken wire or Hex netting [Google Image]

This is good solid fencing but it does require more support than some types of fencing. We currently use this wire mesh for our Trellis's. Ralph drove in 10' T-Posts  at about 10 foot intervals. We attached the wire with the bottom, edge between 12 and 14 inches above the ground. After working with this wire we felt it would not suit our needs for a border fence around the garden area but would be excellent for trellising for tall and heavily vining plants. 

We bought 50' Rolls of 72" hex wire at Southern States for $54.99. This wire will last well as the galvanized coating helps stop corrosion and when we take it down we roll it onto a pole to help stop it from getting out of shape. This also helps when we remount it on the T-post for the next trellis. We set these trellis's in position so we can use them for two crop years. Then they come down and we rework our planting schedule.

 The above photo is the garden this spring, the trellis's were put in last year. This year they had peas on them first and now are carrying a bean crop. [With a stray squash climbing them here and there]

 This is one of the two new trellis's we put next to the small garden shed out back, they carried Cucumbers, beans, and tomatoes for the most part with one Pink banana Squash setting a fruit on it.  They are sagging a bit now from the weight of the plant material on them but they are sturdy and allow us easy harvesting of our produce. The hex wire is doing its job.

I do hope this helps you with some ideas about fencing for your garden area. What ever you do research and experiment. Find a fence you enjoy looking at and that does its job for you. There is nothing worse than coming home to find your garden has been decimated by something that came in through a fence that was not secure. There are a lot of good fence resources out there and most farm and hardware store will give you information about cost and durability as well as ease of installation. Happy fencing!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Homestead Gardening, Seeds.

Our Garden Pickings

   In our plans to get and start to work our own homestead, gardening has been a huge focus.  This is where the difference in our background shows up the  most. Ralph was raised where you plan on a summer garden, a fall garden and a spring garden. I come from an area where if you have 90 frost free days you consider yourself blessed! We both had a lot to learn but it has been almost unreal for me. In fact even as I write this I marvel at the things we can grow and harvest here.

   After hours of discussion we knew we would want a big garden for the first few years to get our initial food stocks in a good position. We want a safe and solid supply of vegetables preserved and stored for our use. Once we have the stockpile we will only have to  maintain it and replenish the items we use.

We looked into vegetables we like, vegetables that store well and have good nutrition and vegetables that are easy to grow and yield well. Perhaps the biggest requirement is that they not be GMO or hybrid.  We want to be able to save our own seed so heirloom and open pollinated are a must.

Tasty, homegrown and no GMO.

It is a good thing we both like reading and researching because we did and are still do a lot of it.  What are we going to need for a good homestead garden?
  • Good quality Open pollinated and organic seed
  • Natural pest control.
  • Natural weed control.
  • Chemicals if absolutely needed.
  • Tools
  • Fencing
  • Trellis building ideas and materials
  • A composting area
  • At least 3 acres of good land  [This is for rotation and three areas for the seasonal gardens]
  • Equipment to work the land 
As you can tell there is just too much to cover in a single post so this post is about seed sources.

We  researched Seed sources and came up with a list of interesting ones. Then we placed small orders at each of them and rated the service, quality of the seeds, variety of vegetables and plants offered and how fast the order arrives. Cost was less of an issue, not because we are wealthy but because we wanted a wide assortment of things to plant and try.

Here are the top seed sources for us:
[in no particular order]

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

This is an amazing resource, not just a seed source. We have had phenomenal results from their seed and I love the recipes that are in the seed catalog.
Two varieties of tomatoes we must have come from them....seriously I mean must have!

 Striped Roman

Green Zebra

Sand Hills Preservation Center

Sand Hills is less glossy but every bit as interesting and  informative.
They have everything for the homesteader and small farmer from seeds to poultry.  Their Sweet Potato selection is amazing and we have been able to grow and taste test a lot of Varieties we had not heard of.
There is really good growing information in this catalog and on the Website.

Terroir Seeds

Terroir has an e-newsletter we receive that has interesting videos and  all sorts of things about gardening and the environment around us. They have superior seed and want to keep Open Pollinated, Heirloom and Organic on our minds. One thing we use frequently from their site is the Knowledge Library section.

Annies Heirloom Seeds

We bought seed from Annie's for the first time this year, mostly herbs. I had no idea there were so many varieties of Basil. The seed we got from them had excellent germination and the service was very good.

Bolloso Neopolitano Basil

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

A marvelous source and another place we have had great service from. Plus the seed has resulted in many enjoyed meals. Their Growing Guide section is invaluable for any gardener. This year saw us plant our very first Peanuts ever...even for Ralph. We got the seed from this site. It is still to early to harvest them but they germinated really well and have been the source of much speculation!

Schronce's Black Peanuts...SESE

Sustainable Mountain Agriculture Center

We "discovered" this site this spring and are delighted we did. An absolutely incredible selection of old fashioned heirloom beans. Beans are a great plant for  storing, canning and drying as well as fresh eating. We both love them and knew they would be an absolute must in any garden we ever had. This site introduced us to a lot of beans we had never heard of. They also have a selection of the tastiest tomatoes we have ever eaten. The service was great and the germination of the seeds outstanding.

Jerusalem, an old variety from Sustainable Mountain. Outstanding Flavor!

There are so many good seed sources and gardening sites. Spend time browsing the net for sites that catch your eye. Remember a homestead garden is unique, it is planted to produce food for fresh eating, food for storing, food for drying, and one thing that is often overlooked in this day and age, the homestead garden should be producing seed for the following years to come. You can become your own seed source. Mixing your own seed saving  with careful selection of new seed and varieties can keep your garden producing good well grown and healthy plants for years. Plants  adapt to the area they grow in so if you keep seed from the best and most vigorous of your plants each year you are actually developing your 'own' variety.

Experiment with your seed selection. Every year we grow some new varieties of vegetables we like, some work, some don't. We also try things we have never thought of growing. It allows us a very wide selection of edibles and that gives us a better range of nutrition from our own food. The small garden here and our research has given us a selection of plants we know a lot about and know we like, and yes some we really do not like!

Of course all of this starts with a list of things you like to eat, things that produce well and things that handle storing well in whatever form you decide to preserve your bounty.  Take time to search the seed sources and select things that you like and want to try. Be brave try new varieties, learn from the failures and the success stories and above all enjoy and be pleased with your decisions...lets face it opening a newly arrived seed order is a lot like Christmas!

The Experimental garden out back, 2014


Sunday, September 21, 2014

What do you want from your Homestead Property?

What do you need for a functioning Homestead. We started by making a list of regions of the country we wanted to live in.
To select the area we took into consideration, growing season, afford-ability, land type, zoning regulations, taxes, proximity to health care, environmental concerns [commercial agriculture and the chemical use that entails, high voltage power lines, power plants, chemical plants, open pit and deep mines etc.] water access, flooding, the local economy and job opportunities.

We made a list and checked it a lot more than twice!

1- Size of property.
  • We wanted it to be bigger than we needed. That would allow us to use the extra land as a natural barrier from other people.
  • Having more land that we need would let us use the extra acreage like a bank account...to sell if needed.
  • Use the extra acreage to have livestock to sell for income.
  • We decided on no less than 50 acres and preferably 80 to 100 acres.
2- Type of land.
  • We looked for land with a woods and open land mix. This mix would allow us the open land to farm and garden and the wooded acreage can be worked as a woodlot for potential timber sales and firewood to heat the home.
  • Check the history of the land. Has it had a lot of chemical use in its history?  Have previous owners dumped chemicals or other hazardous goods on it?
  • We also included raw land in our search. It is cheaper to buy per acre but would need more time to become productive.
  • In our search we decided that the land could be ridgetop or rolling. Ideally it would have some bottom land or flat areas as well.
  • Water sources were a requirement, either ponds or a run of some kind that we could build ponds in. If there was a creek what does it run through or by, we wanted to be sure of the potability and safety of any water source we might use.

3. The House.
  • After a lot of research we decided it would not be cost effective for us to build a home.
  • We prefer one story.
  • 1500 to 2000 square feet was a good usable size.
  • We wanted metal roofing as our first choice but newer asphalt shingles were acceptable.
  • What kind of heat does the home have.  We both prefer wood heat as a low cost renewable heat source.  
  • If the home does not currently have wood heat can it be converted to it?
  • Is there a basement and what kind of shape is it in. 
  • Does the basement have an outside entrance and could it be used to store canning and household supplies.
  • We decided we could invest in a property with a home that needed some work but not major structural renovations.
  • Manufactured or Modular homes would work if they were not too old.
4. Barns and outbuildings.
  • Barns...do we want one large multi purpose building or a series of smaller structures? We decided that we would deal with this question when we looked at properties and how the yard layout was.
  • How much money can we put into repairing and restoring an old barn?
  • Is restoration cost effective?
  • What kind of buildings will we need?  

4- What are we going to use land for.
  • Small livestock and their needs.
  • An Orchard with a wide variety of fruit and nut trees [Check out chill hour requirements]
  • A big production garden for growing food to preserve.
  • A smaller Kitchen garden with an area for herbs for daily use.
  • An area for Perennial crops such as asparagus,horseradish, and Rhubarb.
  • Small fruit production. [Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and grapes]
  • An area to grow some grains. 
  • Some acreage for feed production.
5- What kinds of livestock does the land need to be able to support?
  • Waterfowl:  Ducks, Geese and Muscovy Ducks.
  • Small ruminants: Sheep, Goats.
  • Rabbits
  • Pigs
  • Grass Cattle
  • Poultry: Chickens, turkey's  and guinea hens
  • A Milk cow
6- Woods for potential Timber Sales and firewood.
  • We need enough woodland to supply firewood for our winter needs.
  • It will need to be fenced to allow the pigs to forage for nuts in the fall.
  • Some marketable timber would be a good resource.

7-Water sources.
  • We would like a good well with potable water.
  • Can we adapt the well to get water if there is a power failure?
  • In planning on keeping monthly expenditures down we would prefer not to have to have county water but if we have to how much does it cost and are there other options on the property
  • If there is a spring is it safe to drink and has it been developed for use, has it ever gone dry?
  • We wanted a pond or two if possible. In looking at them we want to find out how they are fed, is it just run off or is there a seep or spring? Is there anything up from the pond that would contaminate the water.? Are there any signs of leakage such as a high water ring or soft marshy areas below the earth works of the pond. Is the pond already stocked and if so with what and how recently?
 8- Odds and ends.
  • Graveyards....we found out that if there is an old graveyard on a property your looking at you are not allowed to disturb it and may be required to maintain it. If it is maintained by an outside source you have to allow them access.
  • We use tools such as Google maps and Delorme Topo USA to "look" at properties and see things like elevation and topography. This often allowed us to find issues like High Voltage Power lines and large Commercial Agriculture sites like pig barns and chicken barns. We do not want to be downwind from a 6 barn commercial chicken operation.
  • We checked out things like Mineral right and timber rights. Some property owners do not sell them when they sell the land and that means they can come in at a later date and mine or timber "your" trees or land.
  • We researched tax incentives and costs. Taxes can be  huge issue so look into the options in the region you like as to your tax commitment.
  • When you do find land you like do not limit yourself to one place...give yourself some choices and compare them.  Ask questions of the realtor and visit the closest town, find out about the area. There are so  many resources to use to help you.

9- Resources.

This is just a very basic list of things we have looked at and researched. Buying a property is a major undertaking and you want to get it right the first time. Mistakes when your planing your future on this land are hard to correct. Most of all do not rush in without looking into every detail you can think of. Decide before you buy what you really want of the land now and into the future, after all it is your future you are dealing with and the future of your family and those around you.

Most of all realize buying land and living off of it is hard work. It is not glamorous like the media can present it. You will work hard, you will get dirty, you will sweat and yes you will bleed! There is an old saying on the farm...Where there is Livestock there is deadstock". However the simple act of sitting down to a meal that you have raised is incredibly satisfying. It is GMO and hormone free. It has not been shipped from halfway around the world and it is the fruit of your labor.

Now to let you chew on this information...the next post will cover your garden and all the joys and travail gardening can bring into your world.