If you already love gardening, then upgrading your passion to a homestead is a great way to live a more sustainable lifestyle and turn your hobby into a potential moneymaker. Whether you’re dying to start a small, farm-stand business or you just want to raise your own food and lower your carbon footprint a bit, make sure you’re prepared to make the leap.
Here’s how to begin turning your garden into a large-scale homestead:
There’s no rule that says you need to get out there and turn acres and acres of land into arable fields in just one season. First, consider how much time you put into your current garden chores on a weekly basis and decide how much additional time you care to spend on these activities. If you can double your time, go ahead and double your planting area. If you can only spend 25 percent more time outdoors, then only increase your planting area by 25 percent. Biting off more than you can chew will only frustrate you.
What is it that you hope to gain from your homestead? If you’re planning a cash crop to take to farmers markets, spend some time researching your local market scene so you know what niches need to be filled. If you prefer subsistence farming, calculate what your family needs for a year of good eating to plan your year’s crops.
Be clear about your financial priorities before you start to build your homestead, as your monetary goals — and current financial reality — will inform your plans to expand.
The main difference between a suburban garden plot and a bona fide homestead is livestock. Animals have many uses on the homestead, including providing food, clothing, and labor. If you have no experience raising farm animals, it’s best to start with chickens, which are easy to care for, take up little room, and don’t require butchering skills if you raise them only for eggs.
Other small animals to consider include:
As you gain confidence in your animal husbandry skills — and if you have sufficient acreage — you can consider adding larger animals that require more care. Bear in mind that the following animals will require more dedication to your homestead. For example, dairy animals need daily milking.
• Llamas and alpacas
You may also enjoy keeping working animals like horses, sheepdogs, and barn cats on your property. Just remember that each animal you take on requires additional care and feeding.
As the size of your homestead grows, so too will your need for tools, equipment, and machinery to care for it all. Unless you plan to use a draft horse and an old-fashioned plow for your fieldwork, you’ll need to invest in several pieces of equipment including mowers, reapers, and spreaders.
Big farm equipment can be overwhelming if you’ve never used it before, so shop for equipment like this spreader first, which is great for small applications, like on a homestead. You can always trade in your equipment for even bigger pieces as you expand, but it’s a good idea not to overspend on these machines, which also require upkeep and storage on your property.
Once you’ve begun to expand your garden into a bigger homestead and know it’s the right lifestyle for you, you may find yourself running out of room — or bumping up against local zoning restrictions that limit your farming activities. If you want to expand, shop for land that has existing access roads, sufficient fresh water sources, and the zoning you need for your homesteading activities.
An existing farm that needs some updating can be a great bargain, but be sure to calculate your expenses for renovating first. If you’re willing to move and to put in sweat equity to refinish an old house or reinvigorate the land, you’ll be in a position to live the homesteading dream in the long term.
Even the best-laid plans don’t always turn out the way you expect, and this is doubly true on a homestead where you’ll be at the mercy of the weather and local conditions. There will be times when plants die and animals are lost to local predators, no matter how much preparation you put into your irrigation and fencing.
Homesteading requires flexibility and the willingness to try again in the face of failure, so make sure you have the personality for this all-consuming and unpredictable lifestyle before you expand.
Few things are as satisfying as growing your own food and living a self-sufficient life. If the idea of learning new skills appeals to you, and you want to do your part to live more sustainably for the good of the planet, expanding that lush garden plot into a homestead filled with life can be an incredibly rewarding path to take.