Thursday, October 6, 2011

getting back to the land.. part 1

 For whatever reason, and there are many, some people are feeling drawn to get land and do what they can to live from it. Good fortune would be the timing of the purchase and the finances to do so in this current economic environment. While large farms are being snapped up.. there are deals to be had on other land holdings. 

 Many towns are catching up on collecting back taxes by way of auctions. Around here.. that would be silent auctions set by the town, some decent sized lots of a few acres starting at $1000.. and have quite the lovely luxury vacation home to boot. Even though there was parcels of 10 acres, I wouldn't have touched them with a 10 foot pole.. and that would be because of local restrictions. Wile a gorgeous home, and ample land on very fertile soil.. you can't do a darn thing with it beyond mowing grass. There are other offerings in different locales that are not so restrictive. It pays to know if you can do what you want to do ahead of time.

 When you are looking for land, and moving on to land.. you need to have some things set in order. First thing is making sure it is the right property for your needs. It is easy to dream, and in that dream the acreage expands ever further.. the list of things to accomplish gets incredibly long. If finances are no option, then there is no issues with accomplishing that dream. If money is tight, a reality check is in order if you truly want to do this.

 Building a farm, or living off the land is a work in progress. Before you can even build that imaginary barn.. you need to know what to look for, or look out for in a site. 

 Location, so important that realtors can't seem to say it once, and your intended uses. Check services in the area and their distance. How far is it from a town with stores, doctors, grain mills, hospitals, lumberyards, emergency services, Department of Human Services, grocery stores, etc. What is next to the property.. undeveloped land, farms, forest preserve? Are there any industries that effect the location?  How is it zoned? Is there electric, gas, cell phone reception, internet, propane? If you are considering alternate housing styles.. make sure you check ordinances. Check for animal restrictions, water rights, mineral rights. You get the idea. While getting away from it all seems like a wonderful thing, there is something to be said for not having to drive 40 miles one way to get Immodium.. especially when you are the one needing it!

 Then look at the territory.. what grow zone is it in? What is the annual rainfall? What water sources are there? Is flooding an issue? Fires? Land erosion? What kind of grading/ sloping? 

 Observations of what is growing on the land also gives input. Original homesteaders would use trees as a guide to selecting sites. Out here.. black walnuts were a sign of fertile land. Great it is fertile, but that's another thing to look for is toxicity. If you intend on keeping livestock, make note of the kinds of trees around and the types of vegetation.  Example would be my in-laws.. they have 2 pastures for the horses. They can't use the back pasture because of all the red maples. Red maple leaves can be toxic to horses. Keep an eye out for natural resources of the area.

 If you intent to keep livestock, you may want to look here at a list of toxic plants.

 Size matters. The more arid the location, the more land needed to support you. As well if the area has a short growing season, you need to take that into account. Old homesteads employed cisterns frequently, as well wind powered pumps to bring up water from underground. 

 If you are gardening an area under an acre, you can do it by hand. It'll be a lot of very hard work. A decent rear tine rototiller will be able to handle the job, you can even do it with hand tools and a lot of sweat. Cultivating bigger plots up to a few acres is then moving on into larger tractors or animal power. Animal power (horses/ oxen) is not for everyone. It was a nearly lost art that is slowly making an unusual comeback of sorts. While you don't feed a tractor, or have to take care of it everyday.. animal teams don't compact the soil like tractors do. That's a whole separate tangent..

 The placement of livestock and gardens in regards to the water source is another key component. 

Find the local USDA office.. and use it. You can find out about pests and diseases in the area, what strains of plants work well, planting times, harvesting times, general soil information of the surroundings.

 Another thing to consider is getting soil and water tested before purchasing. Some geographical areas can have naturally occurring heavy metal deposits. Some water in these rural locations.. are not suitable for consumption and filtration becomes a concern.

 I am currently working on a gardening on the cheap entry.  A lot of this is scattered due to having to jot things down in a notebook while on the farm.. then attempting to decipher it when I get back to town.
 I'm aware my writing skills are lacking. lol I can however build up a garden from next to nothing after having to do it so many times over the years.




  1. These are all excellent points and things that everyone should definitely give serious consideration to before making the big move. Do you think that there is or will be another big back to the land movement in the near future?

  2. Depends on the definition of "near".. lol.. but yes, I do... if they can afford it, or have connections to do so.. or the zeal to try. Many start and then say screw it.. but how long is that luxury possible?

  3. That's good advice all around. When we came up here in 1986, I had no thought whatsoever of gardening. It just didn't register with us. Later I tried a small garden but the hogs and deer got it. I tried Indian corn with some success, but this year no luck. I was looking for very isolated property, with national forest boundaries so nobody could come build on my doorstep. I found what I wanted, even if it wasn't perfect. Based on that experience, I'd say your analysis is spot on.

  4. Or you can move to Missouri. At least the rural counties seem to have never gotten into the whole restriction thing. Although you do have property taxes which are an annoying non-Constitutional pain in the A$$.

    Good points all however.

  5. i am not sure where i first found some list of 30 things that you should look for in a BOL - i think it might have been on rawles' site? maybe saxon's?

    anyway - even though i always wanted to return to my island of birth - i took great consideration when referring to that list (dang i wish i could find that list!) and figuring out the best place for our BOL!

    and when i compared the list to my island - what great joy to find out that my island matched up to the list so well - woohoo! and we are here now at the BOL and simply could not be happier!

    anyway - if anyone knows about the list that i am referring to - i would be very happy if you could post the link to it here!

    Anne - your post was very comprehensive and well-thought out - thank you!


  6. @ Arsenius.. you're choice also taps into something I rather skipped.. hunting. I made out the list under the assumption that one hunting would be aware of land and terrain needed to maintain their prey. You hunt, you picked what suits your needs. You have enough territory to work in a garden, but you are most definitely a hunter. :)

    Not everything is needed on the list, just something to consider when figuring out what to look for when you are looking for land.

  7. @ PP.. thanks! Just running things through my mind. I know a lot of people who dream to go off the grid and live off the land, yet absolutely no idea what to look for when picking a parcel, much less the work to get it going.

    I really hope.. more get it going.

  8. @ PP... Missouri..much more friendly gardening zone.. on paper.

    Agreed on the building thing being a pain.. a couple of friends spent years in WI building a cob home in a secluded forest area.. and had to tear it down.

    Cob is an ancient building method.. and an excellent one at that.

    We are somewhat rushing to get a few more things made.. as they are trying to hinder building out here. For crying out loud.. just last year they *almost* passed something that would have put METERS ON PRIVATE WELLS!!

  9. @ Kymber.. love to hear that!! So great when you find the place that suits you and your needs. Brilliant you were able to find your slice of heaven. :)

  10. Meters on private wells!!!! For crying out loud!!!!

    BTW, I sent the seeds your way! My packaging is not quite up to par with your careful, thoughtful methods, but I hope that they will reach you safely and uncrushed!

    I have been looking around for land, and I have considered many of those subjects you mentioned, great post! You are a walking encyclopedia of knowledge my friend, I'm in awe!

  11. Fantastic advice, sometimes we are so clouded with the dream we forget to take a look around. Coming out of experience, although we thankfully did not buy the land- just borrowed it long enough to learn.

  12. @ AJK.. the old timers around here would have ripped off the meters before the service guys made it to the mailbox. 1 vote away from passing. It would have been mayhem from the residents.

    I got the package!!!!! AMAZING!!!! I will post about it! TY TY TY!! Exciting mix!! (I am beyond elated!)

    The list is off of things we have encountered, conversations with my Mom (when she was selecting the land decades ago).. and the logistics of the neighbor as he went through why he picked what he did, his organization and uses of the land (which is different than mine. He has mostly forested land, ponds he made from his springs, little by way of fields- to rent to pay the taxes- and a small garden. He's a hunter and a forager primarily... and by choice. He's a 1 man operation with no time for livestock. So he tends his forest vigilantly all year. Probably the only person around here with an orchard for the deer, and meadows he never mows so they have grazing galore. In dry times, he will divert the water from the stocked ponds to keep the grasses green.) His strategy works for him.

  13. @ Peterson..
    that is one bonus to an already or formerly set up farm! The last flood here brought to my attention, and many others.. how the very old sites were extremely thought out when first built. The houses and barns did not get flooded, the torrents went below them, and in one amazing case, around the structures! Even the old pastures had high ground for the animals.. but the "new" farms and buildings .. many suffered incredible damage.

    We're still figuring the logistics of the big farm. It was designed for dairy and timber.. as well for tillage. Not irrigated tillage.. which for my purposes makes it challenging. Black walnut and fields on high ground. Fencing.. oh boy.. that price tag will make ya cringe. My husband has a knack for animals.. although horses he truly has a gift.

    I am contemplating the use of cob for building. The other material we have on site is limestone. A friend commented that once the old dairy barn dropped, maybe the foundation could be reused for a greenhouse. I wish that could happen!! I seriously dream about it.

    How's it going on your farm? You never did say what you were up to since the move!! Yay you have goats!! What's in your plans to come?

  14. We were considering Cob too- but we needed a house in a short amount of time, cob would have taken to long. We went and toured a place that was using cob

    Seems back then people took there time, now-a-days we want things so fast, a house can be built in no time at all. At the moment Chuck is finishing up his schooling and working. We are trying to save our pennies so that we can buy our own farm, or at least the land to start one.

    What kind of fencing do you need? What kind of animals are you wanting to add?

    Yep goats- we love are loving it, although I can't wait for milk!

  15. Cob for a house takes quite awhile.. but.. a cob coop wouldn't be too daunting (in theory... as my husband groans in the background.) I will check out that post! I loved them when I was a kid when we visited family in Europe. I begged for a house we could have a grass roof and goats on top like family friends we visited.

    It will be slow going for the animal additions. Ideally, the next I would like to add would be bees. The vets out here have become notoriously expensive. Several high end specialty horse facilities moved into the area over the last few years, and the vets have benefited.

    They do build houses lightening fast. One was just built down the road over the summer and they have already moved in!

    That is one thing I like about old European homes.. and some we saw in the East.. built to last generations. New houses seem so flimsy in comparison.

    We are keeping an eye out for an assortment of fencing. For now, we'll wait and work with what we have. Fencing and shelters first, then animals.. although the stability of doing this all rests on the family situation. You know how that is.. and how quickly it can all change.

    Hoping.. in time.. to buy bits of the farm property. I hoping this works. Already several people have approached my husband asking for eggs and produce! They left standing orders for when the hens do lay, and for veggies next summer.

    Here's hoping we both soon settle on secure sites in the near future.

  16. Hi Anne. I wanted to return the blog visit and thank you for your well thought out comment. I've only had a first chance to look over your blog and have to say that you have a lot of excellent information here. Well done.

  17. For a coop at one point we were thinking of a straw house- just bales placed to look like a house. I can't remember where we had heard about this- but it is supposed to stay nice and warm in the winter. Then we thought maybe that would be a good way to keep pigs. We had a pasture that had some problems and we thought that pigs could do most of the work, then we could re-seed. But we needed a structure. We never made it to that point.

    My husband just said to me last night- maybe we should get bees! I have been wanting to do that for some time, but now we actually have time. So maybe next year.

    Cheers- I second that. We both could do wonders with some land that is our own!

  18. Straw as insulation does do well, but the material covering it would have to be pretty tough for animals!

    Time.. never enough of it! lol It seems when we finally have an opening the weather does not cooperate.

    I hope you do get bees!!