Most people’s first year on the homestead can be summed up in one word: chaos. Making the move into homestead living is often simultaneously exciting and intimidating — even more so if you’ve been accustomed to living in the city or suburbs.
The biggest mistakes new homesteaders make tend to revolve around not having a plan in place for their property. Life in a rural area is more complicated than city life and you’ll likely deal with challenges you’ve never confronted.
Some suggestions mentioned in this post may not apply to your particular circumstance or climate. Other things listed may not interest you (for example, you may not want livestock) but overall, this post will outline, season by season, what to take into consideration for your first year.
Spring is often one of the busiest times of the year for most homesteaders. It marks the beginning of new growth and ideas.
- Implement your gardening plans for the year by starting your seedlings that need a headstart before going outdoors.
- Prepare your garden for planting.
- Deep clean barns, sheds and coops.
- Get any livestock you’ll be growing until the fall (chickens, pigs, steer, etc.)
- Repair any damaged fencing from the previous winter/year.
Though this season is busy in terms of maintenance, it isn’t as packed with many different things to do.
- Maintain your garden for maximum crop harvest.
- Make time every day to stay on top of manure to prevent flies.
- Start canning and otherwise preserving extra fruits and vegetables for fall and winter.
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Depending on your climate, fall is the time to harvest your last crops and start preparing for winter. Fall is often a nice reprieve from the heat of summer and is a good time to get out in cool weather to finish up outdoor chores you may have put off during summer.
- Gather your final harvest of the active growing season.
- Retire your garden beds for the year.
- Fortify your home for keeping out late fall and winter chill.
- If you get snow, make sure your car is prepared for this and you have plans to plow snow from your driveway.
- Butcher any meat livestock. Look into rebreeding your cows, goats, mares, etc., sometime in late fall or winter for spring offspring.
Winter is one of the most difficult seasons for your first year, especially if you live in an area with cold, snowy winters. Many people will fondly say that your whole year of homesteading is just preparation for winter. While this isn’t entirely true, it does take quite a bit of forethought to ensure your property is ready for the freezing temps and snow.
- Pack up all the machinery, tools and other items you won’t need to use during winter. This is especially important if you get snow since it’s pretty impossible to find anything you need when it’s under a blanket of white.
- Create a schedule for checking livestock feed and especially water at least twice daily if you experience freezing temps
- Maintain a deep litter bedding system to cut back on outside chore time
- Keep an eye on firewood or pellets if you use either of these for stoves.
- Use your down time to create gardening and livestock plans for next year
- Grab a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy yourself! If you properly plan for winter in fall, then this season really is one that is relaxing.
I recommend reading magazines like Countryside and Backwoods Home as well as reading books, blogs and online articles about homesteading.
Homesteading is a very individual experience, so doing plenty of research will help you make your first year go by smoothly. Some personal tips from my experience for your first year are:
- Use caution when raising livestock. I love raising animals and if you’re like me, you can’t wait to add livestock to you land. Heed this warning however: Start small, and do so with beginner-friendly livestock. You might have dreams of horses and cows running around your pasture but this can lead to disaster if you’ve never been around large animals. Get your feet wet with some chickens — maybe also meat rabbits, and then goats and/or sheep and finally cattle or whatever larger animal you may be interested in. Ask people in your area that raise livestock for advice. Even ask them if you can help them out with their chores to see if it’s something that truly interest you. If it turns out you are, get just a couple animals until you are experienced to handle more.
- Get started early with firewood — in summer or early fall. Felling trees, cutting wood and stacking takes a lot of time, so be prepared. The last thing you want to experience is only one cord of wood left when you still have three months of freezing temps to go.
- Plant fruit trees and bushes now for enjoyment later. One thing I’m really kicking myself about is not having planted fruit bushes and trees when I first moved onto my property. Berry bushes not so much, but many fruit trees don’t really reach maturity and full crop production for five years, give or take. If you don’t, I promise you’ll be regretting not having done it in a few years.
- Keep an open mind when people in the area give you advice — and always continue to increase your knowledge. Living in a rural area is a beautiful thing and an amazing experience. It gets stressful and we have different obstacles to overcome than city dwellers. But those quiet evenings on the porch, Christmas around a tree from your own property, watching wildlife prance in your fields, welcoming a new calf into the world, and eating a meal grown from your land and hard work makes it all worth it.
If you’ve already passed your one-year milestone of country life, please share your experiences and tips for others in the comment section below!