Building Your 1-Acre Homestead (or not)

On a trip to the bookstore some years back I stumbled across a well-known magazine that completely caught my eye. My wife and I were living on my parents land in rural, middle Georgia and we were gardening, raising chickens, cooking in an Earth oven, taking solar heated showers, etc. We were trying desperately to become more self-sufficient so that headline that spanned across the front cover was a sign of affirmation to me. Start a self-sufficient One Acre Homestead, the cover proclaimed. Again, the magazine was a reputable one so I picked up a copy and headed to a cafe table to have a read and start to rethink what we were currently doing and how we could do this instead.

As I excitedly flipped to the article inside I came across a beautiful little illustration (see above) that showed everything I had been thinking about. There was a house, a cow, a pig, chickens, food plots, and even fruit-bearing trees. We had access to just over 1-acre so clearly this would work for us.

As I started to read though my mind starting noticing some stones left unturned, so to speak. I first noticed that while the cow was happily grazing in a green pasture there was no barn or milking parlor for her. Granted we were in the South it could still get pretty chilly and of course it rained some days. Where would we feed the cow then? Where would we milk her? I looked past it though thinking I could just eek out some space for a small barn.

Then I noticed in the text of the article that it suggested to plow the sod every 4th or 5th year. How would I go about doing that? A tiller from the Tractor Supply would bust up the Earth but it wouldn’t eradicate the grass roots that lurked beneath. For that I’d need a real tractor with a real disc implement. I couldn’t afford one and no one I knew had one I could borrow. And even if they did I don’t know if it would fit on just 1-acre having to make turns and such. I started to become suspicious of the feasibility of this diagram.

That is when the house caught my eye. Why was it so small? Why did the artist take a Mary Engelbreit cottage and plop it down on a 1-acre homestead? It was terribly out of scope and perspective. Maybe it had two rooms? I’m not sure but I remember thinking it was a joke nonetheless.

Within just a few minutes I closed up the magazine and put it back for the next person. I walked away feeling a bit defeated but realizing that there is no magic equation to homesteading or being self-sufficient. In the tiny house community we like to separate ourselves into two distinct groups: the urban dwellers and the rural folk. The rural folk often dream of having a tiny house on a plot of land where they can raise some animals, grow some food, and live a simpler life. NOTHING is that simple. In fact, since we built our first tiny house we have had 3 different main food gardens, multiple smaller gardens, herb beds and boxes, and kitchen “crops” like sprouts, herbs, etc. We’ve composted on different levels with successes and setbacks. We’ve raised at least 6 flocks of chickens. We’ve raised hogs. We’ve talked about goats and even a milk cow. We’ve made and used an Earth oven. We’ve had a solar, outdoor shower. We’ve broken tools, fixed tools, traded tools, begged to borrow tools, and worked till the calluses on our hands had calluses. None of it was easy and none was summed up by a cute little illustration in a magazine. We’ve also had animals get sick, animals die, crops be destroyed by both disease and pest, and our share of spoiled food meant for preservation. Starting your own 1-acre homestead takes time, determination, effort, and dedication. But it is possible. You just have to look beyond the storybook equations and tips and get to know your 1-acre and what truly is possible.

Here’s 5 tips to get your started:

  1. Split your land between livestock and crops. Livestock have to eat too. They also need shelter at times. Don’t sell them short and expect them to be high producers. If you are raising a milk cow learn what she needs and find a way to provide it.
  2. Manage your grazing animals. There is nothing worse that having a goat with an insatiable appetite. Don’t let your animals graze and graze and graze in the same spot until it has turned to hardened Earth. Learn to rotate their grazing habits.
  3. Learn about crop rotation or garden rotation. If you don’t know what the Three Sisters is, go find out.
  4. Understand your water source. You can’t do anything with animals or crops without water. If you are relying on city water understand what your bill may look like each month and what your water is treated with. If you are using a well know whether it is a deep one or a shallow one. And if you are collecting rainwater understand how to purify it before use.
  5. Be realistic. Growing a banana tree in Iowa probably isn’t the most realistic idea. But growing corn is. Be realistic in your goals and you are sure to find success.

Are you currently living tiny on a small homestead? Tell us about it. There is no recipe for success quite like inspiration from others!

By Andrew M. Odom for the [Tiny House Blog]

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Edie - April 20, 2016 Reply

I think self sufficiency looks different for different people. I don’t look to the land alone for our goal of self sufficiency. I hope to create a lot of what we need from the land, but we will still be dependent on people. We hope to have home businesses to earn money to buy the things we need, but can’t create on our own. We hope to barter with others. We just want to do it on our terms, and not have a 9-5 we are currently handcuffed to. This is the dream!

Pippa - April 21, 2016 Reply

Living off the land – what a wonderful dream to have from my third floor, balcony-less apartment. Before you do any of that I’d recommend picking up some books about permaculture, or better yet, try to take a permaculture course. I am so grateful for the thinking skills it has given me that can be applied to all problems as well as helping me think specifically about what I can do to provide some things for myself.

Peter - April 21, 2016 Reply

The first concern, if you cant turn over 1/2 acre of soil with a potatoe fork every four years, turn in your man card!

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