If you're considering purchasing land which supports a self-sufficient lifestyle, there are many details which can make the process seem very overwhelming. But slowing down and doing the necessary homework up-front can land you closer to homestead happiness a lot sooner. Obviously, location should be considered when purchasing a homestead property, but here's a few points which may not be so obvious.
Zoning. For better self-sustainability, search for land that is zoned agricultural, rather than residential. Agricultural property permits you to grow plants & maintain livestock. Check local zoning regulations for additional restrictions which may affect your self-sustainable goals and plans.
Planning. Check the county’s and municipalities’ proposed plans for not only your property’s immediate area but for a radius around it. Think about how the Master Plan or other long-range planning document may affect your property and your own long-term vision for it.
Building codes. Before building structures, check the local building and planning commission requirements to determine which permits are needed. If you build without a required permit, your future homestead may include fines or be forced to tear down unpermitted structures. Some structures do not require a permit. Know which ones are required. If you build anything, make sure to follow your local building codes. Building codes protect you and those around you, now and in the future.
Utilities. Check zoning. Utility restrictions may apply. Some areas restrict owner supplied utilities.
Easements. Often a 25-foot access clearance (easement) is needed along property sides to allow emergency vehicle access in emergencies. Check zoning for any easements required.
Access to property. Make sure there's year-round road access. Some properties are accessible in good to fair weather, but inaccessible in poor or snowy conditions.
Survey. Get a survey to determine true property lines. Without this vital information, you'll start and end with planning or layout inaccuracies. You may even cheat yourself out of valuable land space. You won't know where setback clearances start (how far to "set back" the house from the road) for placing structures. Some zoning requires leaving a 100-foot "structure-free" set-back clearance across the front of property.
Soil testing. Soil tests determine acid or alkaline levels of soil and whether soil amendments are needed for plants.
Wind effects. Windy conditions of certain areas can contribute to soil erosion. When top layers of soil are dry and loose, soil erosion can occur by the strong winds removing the top layers, adversely affecting plants. Water, trees, and structures can help address this problem by keeping the soil moist, weighted and protected, leaving plants intact. Container gardens, raised beds, potted plants and trees may be an alternative in poor soil conditions. Know the prevailing wind directions over the property for best placement of wind turbines or structures for cross ventilation.
Crops and animals. Determine primary, secondary and tertiary goals for self-sustainability. Consider the maintenance needs of each. Rotational crops will need more water, compost, tilling, harvesting and planting than single crops. For animals, will you keep pets or livestock or both? Check your areas local zoning for possible restrictions.
Feed and supplies for animals. Know the feed, water, supplement and supply needs of each animal and their monthly cost. Establish multiple sources of reliable feed suppliers and write down the distance in time to each source. Determine if you can supply some or all of the feed yourself with the property and how important that prospect will be for your operation.
Shelter for animals. Safe, protective "predator-proof" shelter is the goal. Many animals can be easily preyed upon without adequate fortification. This also include adequate space for animals. Is there enough land space for animals to roam and graze? Experts recommend a minimum 1 acre per cow. Chicken and rabbits require less space, leaving more usable land. Also, consider fishing in nearby waters on and off property or a fish farm on premises.
Trees come with pros and cons. They can provide benefits to a self-sustainable homestead. Shaded areas help with energy efficiency in warmer areas. But too many trees require more maintenance, can pose as storm and fire hazards, create obstructions, and potentially pest increase insect and vermin populations. If your sights are set on woodlot management, forestry experts recommend a healthy mix of old and young trees.
Land features. Learn the topography; the grades, pitches and angles of the land. Know the high- and low-lying areas of the property and whether each is sunny or shaded. High areas can be drier and provide drainage. Low areas retain soil moisture and may collect natural water runoff. All of which may be beneficial or detrimental to certain plants. Know the areas that best support each crop. Note each area's approximate square footage for potential crop yield. Planning and working with the land's topography may also save on fill dirt for leveling, drainage, etc.
Additional Notes for Would-Be Landowners
Note any adverse land feature's effect on livestock with respect to terrain, vegetation and obstructions to space needed. Work with the land and its features, so that you don't spend a fortune & a lifetime working against it.
Note average weather conditions for the area. Average rainfall, temperatures & any drought conditions for the location, is vital in planning for crop success. Note any forecasts or seasonal weather extremes that may adversely affect crops. Plan accordingly.
Observe natural lighting in both day and night conditions. The information provides valuable insight for placing & orienting structures, solar panels, landscaping and other features on the property. For general landscaping, try using existing plants, where possible. Observe what's growing best in shaded, partial or full sun locations. Low- maintenance or drought tolerant plants can help reduce cost, labor, and reduce plant & animal ecosystem disruption.
Lastly, do not rush! Resist the urge to come in and start clearing everything away. Take time to learn how you interact with the property and its many features, some of which may not be obvious in your first year. The time investment up-front, prevents costly mistakes, making for a happier, self-sustained homestead well into the future.
Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she's growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.