What You Should Know About Homesteading
I have a new motto:
Living simply isn’t always simple, but it is always worth it.
As I was sending my bi-monthly newsletter out and telling the folks who subscribe about the down and dirty here on the homestead, I typed that sentence and it really hit home. The last few weeks have been very hard for me but the secret is that there’s a silver lining in the difficult parts of homesteading.
When Emerson and I were looking to buy our homestead two and a half years ago I knew we were taking on a drastically new lifestyle. Homesteading and farming was untouched territory for us and we had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I got so excited looking at all the different blogs, pictures, DIY projects, etc. that I found on Pinterest (and still do!). I thought “We’ll be self-sustainable in a year with a beautiful yard and a stocked freezer!”. We had nobody sit down and tell us that it was not always going to be simple. You’re probably not going to have a beautiful yard and your freezer may be more empty than you’d like. Common sense, you may think.
Although I knew it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, I wish I would’ve had someone tell me I was going to fail over and over again, just to succeed a thousand times more. I still have so much to learn and every day holds a new lesson; homesteading is hard sometimes. My goal for this post isn’t to make it seem like I’m all-knowing or a pro, because those descriptions deserve a big, literal laugh out loud. I just want to tell you a few things I wish I would’ve known as you embark on this beautiful, all-encompassing, mind-altering ride.
I’m pretty confident that the activity I did most my first year on the homestead was standing in my yard thinking “Where the hell do I start?”. I knew I would fail. I thought I was so prepared to fail. What I didn’t know is how hard to swallow some of those failures would be.
If you have a background in animal husbandry then this might not apply to you. If you’re like me, you’ve never raised animals for meat and you’ve never culled an animal. You’re might fail and, friends, this is the hardest failure. You’ll watch so many “how-to” videos and think that you’re going to do this right. That’s what I did. Oh, I just knew it would go off without a hitch, but the reality of it all is that it’s your first time and it just might not be that pretty. You aren’t going to cull and clean your chicken like the guy on Youtube who has 1,000,000 views did in 3 minutes. It might take you 30 minutes to an hour the first time and there’s even a chance that you poke an inside part that shouldn’t have been poked or leave a few feathers.
I try something that doesn’t work and leave it until I think of a better way to approach it. I’ve planted crops and nothing sprouts. I’ve attempted to sew pants that won’t pass my knee-caps. I started to grow fodder and it took me months to figure out why it was molding. I’ve taken weeks to plan a hutch just to go to attach the doors and realize they are going to be a real pain in the rear to open and close. It’s okay. It’s all okay and next time you’re going to do even better. That’s what you have to keep in mind because it has the ability to tear you down and, personally, I don’t want you to quit because this lifestyle is one of the best ones out there. That brings us to the next point.
Something I wish someone would’ve told me is to ask stupid questions. I’m now a firm believer of the statement “there are no stupid questions” and I got to that point by asking a whole lot of “stupid questions” and, I’ll tell you me, I can now talk about hot compost until the sun comes up.
The first time I walked out to pick up eggs I was terrified! I was scared of my chickens and didn’t know how to do it. The first time I had to actually pick up one of my chickens I think I could’ve cried. Where do I put my hands? Am I hurting her? Should I colony raise my rabbits or should I build a hutch? HOW do I build a hutch? How do I work a screwdriver and should I be scared of it too, because I am! Are my chickens poop supposed to look like that? How much food am I supposed to feed my animals and how will I know if it’s too much or too little?
I could go on and on. I’m amazed by the amount of information that has been stored in my brain over these couple years. I wrote about “Rabbits Raising: Colony vs. Hutch” and the only way I got there was by trying and, you guessed it, failing. Homesteading is a game of trial and error. What’s kept me going through the years are a few really great books, fellow bloggers, Facebook groups, and Pinterest.
My challenge for you as you start on your journey is to try and realize at the end of the week how quickly you’re learning and back yourself on the dang back. By the end of your first year of homesteading, you’re going to realize you might’ve just learned more than you would’ve in a college course! Your failures are going to rapidly turn into the best lessons of your life. Take it all in and love it, cherish it, and tell everyone about it. Maybe they’ll decide to homestead, too.
I do understand that all of these points might be obvious. They were all things that I knew were possible before moving to the homestead…but the extent of their presentation was unbeknownst to me.
Remember when I mentioned Pinterest? Yes, well it’s been a blessing and a curse in its own unique ways. Pinterest has armed me with some of the best gardening tips and building ideas, but it’s also weighed me down with it’s extravagant, tempting, low-priority DIY projects that I want so desperately to be able to say “I did it myself” on. Do I really NEED to spend my time painting all 13 of my garden beds so they look super cute or should I build the hutch first for the baby bunnies my doe just had?
I wanted to do it all RIGHT NOW and you probably will, too. I’m going to tell you what one or all of your elders might’ve told you a time or two and say “Prioritize, honey”. My yard is sometimes a total wreck not because I don’t care, but sometimes there are things that must be done before I can take the time to tidy the yard.
Do yourself a favor (and everyone else around you, trust me on this one) and get used to the fact that you’ll have projects that get done a little later than planned or you might have to wait a little longer to put in that beautiful herb garden because something else came up.
Now, we’re gearing up for the last point I want to make if you’re a new homesteader. If you’re a seasoned homesteader, I think you’ll agree with me…
Or obsession, whatever you prefer to call it.
Emerson works full-time right now so the homestead is my full-time occupation and responsibility: the chickens, ducks, rabbits, gardens, fruit trees, compost, etc. all depend on me to get things done. Work is slow for him in the summers so he’ll help with projects like building the duck house or harvesting the crops. Winter means manatees, and summer means scallops, for Citrus County, Florida, and since he’s a hitched up with one of the number one tour companies in the county I don’t see much of him on the farm between July and March. He’s 100% supportive mentally and emotionally, but he can’t offer as much physically most the year.
Since our mutual arrangement of farmer Chelsea and manatee mingler Emerson, I’ve realized that this lifestyle consumes you. We have a pair of friends that are building their first house and had us over for a bonfire the other night and all I could think while out there viewing their serene little spot in the woods was “You can put a rabbit hutch there, the hen house there, a few garden beds there, etc.”. With saying that, my greatest piece of advice to you is this: Take a break.
For myself, and many other homesteaders, homesteading is much more than just gardening and farming. It’s working towards self-sustainability, self-reliance, and simplicity. Since Emerson and I started homesteading I’ve learned to do things like making homemade bread, sew, and build my own hutches and brooders. When we moved in February ’16, I’d never used a power tool in my life. Since I started acting as a stay-at-home homesteader I quit doing those things. I was obsessing over what had to be done outside and wasn’t allowing myself to practice the other aspects of homesteading that I truly love. This will very easily lead to burn-out and, again, this lifestyle is just too good for burn-out.
Gently Sustainable has a great post called “How to Homestead Alone and Not Die in the Process” that really resonated with me. For example: Since it’s just me, and because I do find importance in things like learning to sew or brewing kombucha, this means we won’t be getting goats as soon as I’d hoped. **typed as I wipe a tear from my eye**
You’re going to fail and learn. You’re going to overachieve and overwhelm. Your mind might be swallowed up in loops of homesteading ideas. I’m two and a half years in and, even on my very hardest days, I go to sleep overjoyed that I get to live this life.
Living simple isn’t always simple, but it is always worth it.