The turning of a new year is when many of us feel the urge to make resolutions or set goals. Whether or not you're a new homesteader, you might be wondering "where do I begin" or "where do I go from here?"
If you jump in with both feet, starting a one-acre garden, getting chickens and other livestock, and deciding that everything you cook for your family will be from scratch, you'll find yourself overwhelmed in double-quick time. So how do you know where to start?
Even if you've been homesteading for awhile, this is a good time to sit down and analyze what's working, what isn't, and where you want to go from here.
Define Your Purpose
Start by defining your purpose. Dig deep to discover the prime reason you want to homestead. It might be:
- to be as self-sufficient as possible in all areas
- to supply the healthiest meat possible for your family
- to grow as much of your family's produce as possible
- to produce your family's milk and eggs
- to produce an expensive item you use often
- to grow the best tomatoes
- to live a healthy lifestyle
- to live off-grid
- or maybe you have another reason
By discovering and defining your purpose you'll know which direction you need to go.
Do You Have Room?
Also take into consideration the amount of space you have. If you have acreage, for instance, you can raise larger animals or have a larger garden than if you live on a suburban lot. Be sure to check your local ordinances too: you won't be able to have bees or raise rabbits if your town or homeowners' association doesn't allow it.
What Is Your Passion?
You probably know the answer to this question without thinking too hard. Do you enjoy having livestock more than gardening, do you prefer working with soil and plants, or is your interest inside your home?
Or maybe your passion is to remove toxins and chemicals from your home and replace purchased products with healthy alternatives that you've learned to produce yourself, or to learn to cook most foods from scratch.
Next, narrow down that focus and be more specific in what you want to do.
If your purpose is to raise all of your family's meat, where will you begin? A steer is an 18-month commitment, a hog is about ten months, broiler chickens take just eight to ten weeks. (But don't start them all at the same time! You'll definitely be in over your head and ready to throw in the towel in record time.)
Choose just one species at first and move on from there. Chickens are probably the easiest and definitely the quickest to raise, and are a good place to begin. If your goal is to have home-raised chicken on the table once a week, you'll need to raise 52 chickens. If your space is limited, you might want to raise two batches of 26 broiler chickens during the year.
Start small. You can add more chickens plus ducks and geese and guineas and a turkey for your Thanksgiving meal in the future, little by little.
If you're short on space, devote the space you do have to your highest priority. If you love tomatoes, grow tomatoes. If you love salad and eat it a lot, grow salad greens and additions. If your family enjoys something that's normally out of your budget, such as fresh blackberries or asparagus, grow that.
There are ways to get around the problem of limited space, at least to a point. Grow your plants vertically. Your garden beds don't all have to be in one place. Containers are another way to add more garden space. Check out my post on "what to grow in a small garden" for some ideas.
Fruit trees don't take much work, but they do take time to reach maturity. You might want to plant a few early in your homesteading career so they will be producing as soon as possible.
Most berries will take a year to begin producing, and asparagus will take 2-3 years.
Make A Plan
Now that you know what your passion and purpose are, you are ready to make a plan. Remember to start small, learn all you can about what you're doing, and add things as you feel more confident.
Write down "all the things." Go ahead and make a long list of all the things you want to do. Dream big, but then narrow down your focus until you are thinking small. Decide which items you want to work on, then prioritize them, break them down into projects, and decide where you want to begin.
Add the others to a five-year or longer plan. Start small so you don't get overwhelmed. Sometimes it's easier to keep yourself on the plan if you know that next year you'll be expanding and adding more.
For instance, if your focus is gardening, you might have a five-year plan that looks sort of like this:
Year One: Start your garden, plant a fruit tree or two, begin composting. You'll work on keeping your plants alive, learning about the soil and weather in your area, and how to deal with local pests and problems.
Year Two: Add asparagus and another fruit tree, add herbs in pots. Continue composting and gardening.
Year Three: Add berry plants, build a cold frame or greenhouse, try extending your growing season.
Year Four: Add more planting beds, plant another fruit or nut tree or two.
Year Five: Get a beehive to pollinate your garden and fruit trees. Learn which plants on your property are edible or medicinal and how to utilize them.
Sometimes Change is Necessary
Once you form plans and start to work your way through them, don't be afraid to change your plans as your life changes.
You might find that you can't free range or pasture your chickens because of predator problems. You may need to find a different way to confine your pigs. You might need to completely change your goat fencing, or you're tired of the goats eating your garden. Your LGD might like the taste of chicken. Your children might be afraid of chickens or the mean goose. Or you find out you're allergic to bee stings. Any of these reasons and more might cause you to change your plans.
Two years ago we downsized our livestock and increased the size of our garden. Our children have all left home which means our need for milk, eggs and meat has decreased. I also had more time to devote to weeding and watering since I was no longer homeschooling and doing the planning and recordkeeping that requires. We have a simpler routine that works for us for now, but I'm sure there will be more changes in the future.
There is no shame in changing your plans. The point is, don't be a slave to something that isn't working for you. Refine your plans and your goals until you find just the right fit for you.
Do you have questions? I'm always happy to help if I can. You can contact me here.
My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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