Homestead Record Keeping

In the long run, accurate record keeping will save you time, trouble, and perhaps even money.

| January/February 1983

  • homestead record keeping - cartoon of two chickens scheming to alter the records
    Be aware that some of your animals might think good record-keeping isn't in their best interest.
    Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • homestead record keeping - cartoon of two chickens scheming to alter the records

This is the second year of our "great experiment" living on a farm of our own that my husband and I carved out of an undeveloped piece of land. And, looking back over the past months, I'm amazed at how far we've come toward achieving our dreamed-of self-reliant lifestyle. For example, we now light and warm our home with site-generated wind and solar power, and grow most of our food as well. Among the most important lessons we've mastered over the past two years is one that definitely contributes to our ability to be self-reliant: good record-keeping. We now consider it to be an essential aspect of our operation. Perhaps our experiences will be of help to other folks who are trying to make sense of their work, and lives, "down on the farm."

When we first moved to this five-acre plot in Arizona, the farm-to-be was nothing but a hilly pasture. There were no trees for lumber or fuel, no well or other source of water, and certainly no telephone or electricity. And because our land was smack in the middle of cattle country, our only neighbors were curious cows. (They paid us their respects during our second night of homesteading: we awoke the following morning to find large, wet noses pressed against the frosty windows of our Volkswagen van.)

As you can well imagine, those first few months on our homestead were hectic. We were so disorganized that it was hard for either of us to conceive of adding record-keeping to the many jobs we were already struggling with. It was all we could do to hire a well-driller, labor to install the pump and waterlines, haul all of our accumulated belongings from town, quickly cobble together a shed to store them in, and then embark on the downright intimidating task of building a house. Although we'd scoured the libraries and read dozens of books on alternative construction methods and the like, we soon discovered that there's a world of difference between the reading, the planning, and the actual doing.

Despite our sometimes stumbling start, however, the house did get built, and since then we've learned enough to help us tackle just about any homestead problem with confidence (if not with ease and grace). Nevertheless, if we'd started our journal right away we'd have had the information we needed when it came time to expand upon our plans. And now that we do keep homestead records, we've found that they serve another purpose, too: They're often a source of encouragement in the sometimes gray days that are a part of embarking on a new life in the country.

This past year my husband and I finally put together an eight-section logbook and began to get organized. We found that an inexpensive loose-leaf binder makes a practical ledger because it can be rearranged, added to, or subtracted from as our information-saving needs change. Subject dividers with slip-in labels keep the sections in order, and lined sheets, or graph paper for charts and plans, fit in place easily.

We feel that our most important records are those dealing with the weather, so that's the first subject in the log. We note the high and low temperatures for each day (the information should be helpful for determining actual homestead frost dates and planting times); the seasonal changes in the wind conditions (which we need to keep track of, since our wind generator provides all our electricity); and any precipitation or cloud cover, or the absence of either (knowledge that'll be useful in designing future solar heating systems).

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