Essentials for Starting a Homestead

Reader Contribution by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen and Hostile Valley Living
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For those thinking of taking the leap into homesteading or farming, there are some tools that can make all the difference.  I have compiled a list of some of the most used and useful objects on our homestead, ones that have a general appeal (not specific to any kind of livestock). 

Canning Supplies

Canning supplies start with a collection of canning jars.  You can add to your abilities to preserve and ferment with funnels and racks and toppers, but just starting with the jars you will find them undeniably useful.  

There are two reasons that canning jars and supplies are at the top of my list.  First of all, canning is the easiest entry into self reliant living.  Grow even one tomato or cucumber plant, can the harvest, enjoy it on a winter day: it’s a start.  Heck, you can buy your vegetables or fruits at the grocery store and can them if you want a quick introduction.  It’s just such an easy way to get started and to enjoy the simple pleasure of making food last.  All you need are the jars and your kitchen and a little bit of time.  The second reason  for a canning jar collection is that the jars are just so very useful.  We ferment cider in them, we milk into them and store milk in them, we make yogurt in them, we use them for bouquets, we can scoop feed with them, we could plant things in them, we store dry goods and seeds in them, there is just no end to the usefulness of a good canning jar.  So go out and get yourself some canning jars, try some fermentation experiments, or just start using glass as your favorite way to store all manner of things.

Good Gear

What a difference good gear makes!  I mean durable, hardworking clothing that keeps you dry, warm, safe, and allows you to move freely.  But won’t old pair of jeans do that?  Not on the farm.  If you keep livestock, or you live in a seasonal climate, or you’re doing any kind of construction or land restoration, jeans are not always going to cut it.  You’ll find yourself up to your knees in mud, working in the pouring rain, working in negative temperatures, having various animals chew on you…you get the idea.  

When I first started farming I still wanted to wear skinny jeans but I quickly changed my ways.  You need durable boots, you need coveralls that can keep you warm in winter and also allow you to remove them and go back to looking like a normal human, you need a warm hat and good gloves, and you need a good winter jacket and a good rain jacket.  It just is uncomfortable without these things. You also need breathable summer gear that is still durable.  Invest in good gear and it will make a huge difference in your day to day experience.  That being said, don’t over invest.  Buy clothes you won’t mind seeing covered in every possible animal fluid, have holes chewed in them, have holes burned in them, and generally end up stained and tired but still working.  My go-to brand for gear is always Carhartt, which is affordable enough to replace if it gets damaged – but tough enough that that rarely happens.

Buckets

Buckets are like canning jars.  You cannot put a number on their uses.  I’m talking five gallon buckets with handles.  If you go to a hardware store grab a couple.  You will haul animal food and water in them, you’ll move dirt and rocks and store trees, you’ll move shavings to a brooder box or even move baby animals with them.

Unsplash/jessicajohnston

Even though on our farm we have a tractor, a wheelbarrow, and several outdoor faucets for easy water access, I use five gallon buckets every day, multiple times a day.  They’re how you get the water from the faucet to trough which is never quite close enough (especially in winter when hoses can’t be used), or get the pile over the obstacle and to the tractor or wheelbarrow.  They carry pig feed out to their remote pasture.  They are endlessly useful and having a few on hand has saved the day on more than one occasion.  Bonus: they also make an excellent seat should you need a rest after a long day.

Good Wheelbarrow

Like buckets, a good wheelbarrow will be used for transporting any number of heavy objects from point A to point B.  A wheelbarrow can carry more than a bucket, of course, and it’s easier to move heavier things.  And a wheelbarrow can be wheeled in to smaller spaces and more difficult terrain than a tractor.  

If you keep any kind of livestock a wheelbarrow is an absolute must for cleaning stalls.  Any wheelbarrow is going to be helpful, but I personally would recommend a two-wheeled design.  They are usually bigger, and so can transport more; but most importantly they are more stable.  That stability and maneuverability makes all the difference.  As with gear, I think it is also important to spring for the best built wheelbarrows, if at all possible.  Spending extra on a very durable model will mean you never have to purchase one again.  

Digging Bar

I cannot tell you how often I reach for the simple digging bar on our farm.  A digging bar is a simple steel rod, usually around six feet long, with one flat end for gripping and one chisel end for prying.  It’s different from a crowbar in that it doesn’t have the curved end and it’s usually much larger.

The design purpose of a digging bar is to lever large rocks.  That is certainly a useful purpose on the farm, especially in rocky terrain or if you are trying to clear out a garden bed.  A digging bar can help you move rocks that would be much too heavy, or are too rooted in the ground, for you to shift on your own.  It can do the same thing with any other large object such as fallen trees.  But honestly, more than anything I use our digging bar in winter for ice clearing.  I use it to chop ice out of the walkways so that the animals and myself can walk safely, I use it to chip ice out of water buckets and I use it to dislodge various things from the ice so I can use them.  While our digging bar sees plenty of use in the summertime, in the wintertime there isn’t a day I do not use it.

Tractor

Possibly a controversial choice because I know many farmers who work only with manpower or use horses or cows/ox on their land – but a tractor is an invaluable asset for us.  A small plot of land, or land in good working condition, can be easily worked by hand.  But a farm of any size (ours is 93 acres) or in disrepair (ours had been abandoned for thirty years) is going to require some serious heavy lifting.  Adding a tractor – even a small one, or an ATV with a dump bed – will avoid many aching muscles and possible injuries, and help you restore your land in a fraction of the time it would’ve taken by hand.

That doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on on a fancy, brand new tractor.  When we moved to our farm we had a family vintage 1949 Ford 8N.  We cleared forty acres of field with the old tractor, which was strong enough to haul rocks and logs, and a brush-hog attachment allowed us to mow down anything smaller.  Within two seasons our fields were workable again.

We did add another tractor, one with a bucket scoop and more power, after a few years.  We now do the majority of our work on the farm with a 1985 John Deere 1050.  We can move earth and mulch, flatten some areas and make piles in others, clean up our manure pile, haul all manner of things, mow fields, move trees, carry equipment, and control brush fires.  

Vintage tractors, wether the family heirlooms or slightly newer models, are the way to go.  The benefit of both of our tractors is that we can work on many of their issues here on the farm.  They aren’t run by a computer, they’re simple enough that a farmer can understand them.  And, they are much less expensive than new models.  While a tractor may be one of the bigger investments you make in your farm, it can still be affordable if you look for good used models online.

Patience, and Open Mind, and a Sense of Humor

And of course, the right mindset is everything.  Farming and homesteading are long games.  There are many setbacks and heartbreaks, frustrations and changing plans.  You need the ability to look at a piece of land, envision a future of food production for it, and then work patiently towards that goal.  Planting fruit trees or asparagus may take years to pay off.  But a homesteader does it anyway.  Crops may fail, and even the most well cared for animals can fall victim to injury or disease.  But you keep persisting, treasuring the moments of success and learning to grow and change with the land.  

It’s easy to become overwhelmed on the farm, but a love of the lifestyle and a belief in doing better each season keeps you getting up and taking care of the animals and the land every day.  And the right equipment can make it all easier.  Hopefully with some of these tips you will be able to make the transition to a homesteader’s lifestyle smoothly.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen is rebuilding a 200-year-old homestead in rural Maine, using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Find Kirsten online at Hostile Valley Living’s site, Facebook page, and Instagram, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS blog posts here.


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