Today I've been thinking about what lessons we've learned in the first year of homesteading. Farming or living on an acreage is a very challenging life, but so is living in the city! Just in different ways.
Out here, when your source for drinking water dries up...that's a huge problem. And it translates to a lot of time spent hauling water and hooking up hoses in rough terrain or steep slopes.
In the city, it's the stress of a boss dictating your entire life, including when you can spend time with your kids or do something you enjoy. Also not fun.
But the homesteading lifestyle has so many unique challenges that I wanted to offer my perspective as it's been a year since we moved here. Here are eleven things that I wish someone had told me about before jumping into this life...that way I could have at least mentally prepared for some of it, or been super grateful for the luxury of city living (oh, that faucet that magically pours water out!!).
1. We did a lot of camping-style cooking for most of the first year. If you are going to be in a similar off-grid set-up, be prepared for this by packing your nice plates, linens, and wine glasses in secure boxes and use your camping plates and flatware until a proper kitchen is set up. I had to make sure all of my food was stored in food-grade buckets in case we got mice, so it was challenging to remember where things were stored. I had to let go of wanting that perfect kitchen set-up and organized pantry.
2. Don't over-promise yourself when setting up projects for the year. We bought a bunch of trees back in February and they were delivered in late May during a massive heat wave. We had no irrigation set up, and no fencing ready to keep deer and rabbits out. We didn't have the holes pre-dug because it was a month where so many things needed handling. So some of the trees died, and it broke my heart knowing that we weren't ready for them. But lesson learned: don't buy plants ahead of time if you're not sure that you will be ready for them. We also had a very amazing opportunity to buy goats from a friend, and I had the foresight to say no even though I so badly wanted goats (and had always dreamed of getting them). I'm glad I turned her down because we had no housing for them, no feed, and no fencing. It would have been a recipe for disaster if I had said yes.
3. Everything goes really slowly in your first year. Especially if you have young kids. Pare down your expectations to one or two major projects and you'll be happy at the end of it! At the same time, if you have proper tools and heavy duty equipment + cash money to hire people, then things will go fast and you can say yes to a lot more opportunities. Be ready to spend lots of money on fencing, building supplies, and equipment.
4. Spend a lot of time observing your new land and all of the different micro-climates around you. Watch everything through the seasons. You will find out things you couldn't guess from looking at topography maps or other such tools. Make sure to do this before making any big decisions like cutting down timber, clearing land, putting in fencing or building big structures.
5. If your land is in the Pacific Northwest, be prepared to cut, mow, and clear brush constantly. Grass grows to 8 feet tall here! Ferns, blackberries, elderberries, stinging nettle, and wild roses are completely persistent and spring right back. There's a reason it's called the temperate rainforest!
6. Get yourself a hedge trimmer. They are so handy with scrubby brush (mature elderberry bushes, ferns, blackberries, wild roses, etc.). They are cheap and not stinky like a chainsaw, and lighter too! Our chainsaw is very handy, but the hedge trimmer is our favorite tool this first year on the homestead. We have a battery operated one that we love.
7. No matter how much you feel that your new equipment is bulletproof, that tractor or skidsteer is going to need fixing. And it's probably going to need fixing right in the middle of a very critical project. Like fencing or digging trenches for water lines. Count on it and be prepared with lots of common parts that typically break on that machine. Read online forums about your model & make to learn about this.
8. Fencing is really, really expensive. If you have a romantic view of having tons of land (anymore than 5 acres), be prepared to be constantly putting up fencing and maintaining it. If you're not ready to do that, purchase a smaller acreage or rent land. Or if you are in the process of buying land, buy some with lots of fencing already done! It will save you so much time and money (and headache!).
9. Be willing to accept a downgrade in comfort and convenience. There may be times when you have to haul water in buckets or shower outside with pretty cool water (those solar showers don't heat the water very much, unless you live in a blazing hot climate). This also depends on your circumstances and what you start out with. But also, even in an on-grid situation, there will be times when the plumber is booked solid and can't come fix the pipes. If you live rurally, power outages are very common. The internet or cell service gets blocked by thick cloud cover often as well. And don't get me started on higher shipping costs! It's been easy to give up our Amazon addiction, since it costs $50 shipping for even the smallest item!
10. Get through the problems with humor! It can be funny when the tractor gets stuck in the mud and you get covered with mud, sweat, and tears while trying to pull it out. Maybe it isn't funny right when it happens, but it's fun to look back and chuckle at all of the shenanigans that happened in the last year. I like recording a lot of the major things that happen to us in my journal so we can do just that.
11. Most of all: Enjoy the beauty of nature! Take sunset walks with your partner, maybe get a hot tub and revel in the glory of the wilderness at your fingertips. That forestry, fresh smell in the morning with a cup of coffee is so nice. I have plans to have an outdoor kitchen, bonfires by the pond in summer, and lots of other fun projects that I could never have done in the city. I am so grateful to have a gorgeous piece of land that is ALL mine and I can do anything I want to it!
Rosemary Hansen is an Author, Homesteading Mama, and a Chef. She has spent the last 10 years “homesteading” in the city. She and her family have just started their off-grid homestead in rural British Columbia, Canada. Her books, Grow a Salad In Your City Apartment and Rosemary’s Natural Cosmetic Guide are a great way to ease into a healthy, pure lifestyle. You can connect with Rosemary at her website, Rosemary Pure Living, or on her YouTube channel. Read all of Rosemary's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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