For many, the word “homesteading” conjures up images of covered wagons heading west to claim the land provided to them by the U.S. government. It was Abraham Lincoln who signed the Homestead Act in the 1860s, encouraging Americans to move west with the promise of free land, 160 acres they could use as their home and their business.
Today’s homesteaders do not receive titles to their land from the president, of course — the West has since been well populated. But they do envision a fruitful life led tilling the land, wherever their farms may be — and you’re hoping to join their ranks.
There are so many benefits that come with homesteading. A life led on the land is certainly a rewarding one, and many before you have done it successfully. Still, there’s a lot that goes into making your decision to homestead, and there are some major factors to consider before you take the plunge into modern-day pioneering. Here are five of them.
Survey the Land
Becoming a homesteader means you’ll live off the land. As such, you’ll want to look at property with a critical eye to ensure you can turn your homestead into a successful farm for produce and livestock.
For most homesteads, the minimum amount of land you’d need to raise crops and animals would be a half-acre, but a bit larger would give everyone more room to breathe. Your lot should also include sources of water if you hope to live entirely off of the land. A well and a stream, for example, would provide hydration to your family and your farm.
Build a Simpler Home
The extravagant McMansions of yesterday and the tech-laden homes of today won’t suit a homesteading lifestyle. This isn’t to say that you can’t have the comforts of electricity, Netflix and smartphones, but you should make your home as small as possible for easy maintenance.
No matter what kind of home you envision, it’s important to build it wisely. Just because you plan to live more simply doesn’t mean you should, for example, try your hand at constructing one of your own. Instead, do your best to avoid the common pitfalls of home construction, and you’ll have a solid structure that will require minimal upkeep over the years.
This thoughtful construction should apply to any other farming structures you’ll need, too. Depending on your budget, you may not be able to invest in all of the livestock you’d like to keep on your property, for example. However, you shouldn’t build a barn just for the chickens you can afford now if you plan to have a cow and a goat someday, too. By giving yourself a little wiggle room, you’ll save money on future construction.
Plant Your Produce Wisely
Unless you’re already a green thumb, planting fruits and vegetables on your homestead can be a daunting task. So, you’ll want to study up on the basics of cultivating and harvesting produce so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor as soon as possible.
One rule of thumb is to focus on planting annuals first. These trees and plants need careful planting and attentive care if they’re to grow back year after year. So, take your time and sow each seed in the perfect spot. Once they’re showing signs of growth, you can add perennials, which are typically easier to grow.
If you haven’t cared for livestock before, you should brush up on this area of your homesteading responsibilities, too. This will come in handy when you decide how much property and barn space you’ll need for all your animals. It’ll also help you come up with a homesteading budget, another vital element of your step into the simple life.
Meet the Neighbors
Most homesteads are situated next door to other homesteads. They may not be properties you can see or even walk to, but knowing you have a homesteading community around you is one of the biggest comforts when you embark on your new land-based lifestyle.
Before you buy your homestead, try and meet at least one of your neighbors. Find out how the land has treated them to make sure it’ll be good to you, too. Once you’ve moved in, you can turn to your neighbors for advice and a helping hand. They’ll know what it’s like for a homesteader just starting out — it’s safe to assume they were beginners at one time, too.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Finally, your first experiences with homesteading will not be easy. It’s going to be a transition from a “normal” 9-to-5 lifestyle to one led on the land. If you find yourself frustrated, confused or otherwise apprehensive about your decision, don’t let those negative thoughts overcome you. Instead, focus on all the good you’re doing for yourself and your family. With time, you’ll master your homestead and live the simpler life you want for 2018 and beyond.