Modern Homesteading Mistakes: What MOTHER Never Told Me

A lesson learned early and often in modern homesteading is that there's a big difference between what's supposed to happen and what does happen.

| March/April 1985

  • modern homesteading - illustration, author driving calf home
    Most books on modern homesteading don't mention anything about driving home with an incontinent calf sitting on your lap.
    Illustration by Jack Vaughn
  • modern homesteading - illustration, rabbit bitting author's wrist
    Not all rabbits are fluffy and cute. Some are foul, cruel, bad-tempered, and fiercely territorial.
    Jack Vaughn
  • modern homesteading - illustration, children protecting chickens from author
    Expect children to take no interest in the care and feeding of homestead animals until butchering day comes around, when the critter that was destined for the stew pot suddenly becomes their dearest pet.
    Jack Vaughn
  • modern homesteading - illustration, author at typewriter
    In spite of all that went wrong, enough went right to keep the Victor family on their land.
    Jack Vaughn

  • modern homesteading - illustration, author driving calf home
  • modern homesteading - illustration, rabbit bitting author's wrist
  • modern homesteading - illustration, children protecting chickens from author
  • modern homesteading - illustration, author at typewriter

Being blessed, as I am, with several years' worth of hands-on experience committing just about every blunder imaginable, I figure it's my neighborly duty to share this great wealth of modern homesteading knowledge with my fellow MOTHER EARTH NEWS Readers.

Let's start at the beginning, with a few words on ...

Selecting A Homestead

One factor should always be kept in mind when shopping for your prospective back-to-the-land land: No matter what size parcel you choose, it's going to be either too big or too small.

Our first homestead was a humble acre and a half — on which we raised (more or less simultaneously) two gardens, three hogs, forty chickens, two cows, and two hives of bees, plus assorted pheasants, cats, dogs, and children ... all in full view of two stunned but understanding neighbors.

But we did make a pretty good go of it, and without too much stink (literally). Of course, there were problems. For instance, we purchased feed for all those critters from the local Agway store, making our enterprise something less than profitable. (In fact, Agway flew its flag at half-mast for three days when we moved away.) Our gardens, however, became local legends: Organic fertilizer grows unbelievably robust weeds.

As soon as we realized that the place was too small to support our plans for self-sufficiency, we sold it to a family with four kids and an aged grandmother. (They were, last we heard, busily acquiring double the stock we had and were "free-ranging" dozens of chickens on the thick, wine red pile carpet we painstakingly installed in the dining room during a fit of homesteading extravagance.)


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