The real deal on being self-sufficient on a One Acre Homestead

The latest Mother Earth News  grabbed my attention last night:

“Start a self-sufficient One Acre Homestead” the cover proclaimed:

I bought it, because I’ve had an interest in growing as much of our own food as I can the past couple of years.

Now I grew up on a real working farm

240  acres

Small dairy herd

I know how to milking the cow by hand

farrowed pigs

butchered chickens

farm fresh eggs

baled hay

Pitched manure by hand

filled the silo

The whole enchilada, so I’m not stupid when it comes  the basics of living on a farm.

The article had this cute little diagram :

Having tried to grow as much food as I can on our little acreage the past couple of years I have to say there are some major gaps in this article.

Tilling the soil

They talk about “plowing” the sod every 4th or 5th year…that means you will either have to invest in a tractor and small plow or borrow your neighbors…unfortunately, they are not cheap, and most real farmers today in my neck of the woods, farm  100’s of acres, their equipment is too big to use on a small patch of ground.  Their rigs can’t even fit through the opening in the fence, let alone just plow a small swath.

If you use just a regular tiller to break up un-plowed ground, you’re going to end up with a lot of weeds and grass because you can’t turn it over enough to smother out the grass roots.

If you do spread manure on the ground (to give it fertilizer)  you really do need a plow.

If you don’t have a tractor and manure spreader, you have to figure out another way to get the manure out to the field. (wheel barrow?)  Ever done that with more than a couple of trips?  You will sleep like a baby after  a day of that :-)

Critters

Then you have the whole battle with the other creatures of the wild that have a keen interest in your crop.

Rabbits. they love your garden as much as you. Unless you have a fence fine enough to keep the rabbits out, they will  nibble off your beans and other hard earned crops in short order. I don’t care how much you respect the earth and earnestly desire to go green.

If you do invest in a rabbit fence, better figure on spending several hundred dollars if you intend to fence in 1/2 acre of ground.

Deer

they are thick here in Eastern Iowa.  You’ll need a fence that is 8 ft tall to keep them out.  A few years ago, we planted 40 young apple trees..they were looking awesome that first month…long luscious branches…then the deer found them, and in 2 nights they ate 80% of the new growth, stripped them right down to nothing.    We did invest in an electric deer fence that does a pretty good job of keeping them out. Probably had $900.00 invested by the time we fence around just the apple trees.

 

predators

We currently have (3) chickens.  We get two eggs a day, which is about right for the two of us.  We have to buy the chicken feed @ almost $10.00 for a 40# bag.  Those eggs are not cheap if you do the math.

As much as I would like them to be “free range”  they wouldn’t last a month. Chicken hawks  and owls would make short order out of our little flock.  Lost several chickens several years ago to a raccoon that kept breaking into a locked chicken house.

Farm animals

The article discusses whether or not to have a house cow, pigs, chickens.  You better be prepared to spend a lot of $ keeping your 1 or 2 critters with feed because you are not going to be able to raise/ keep enough food to get you through the winter.  It is not cost effective to own a tractor and hay baler for 1 cow  and 1/2 acre of hay :-)

We had (1) pig a couple of years ago.  Tried to get by just letting her forage off the pasture.  Didn’t put on any weight, and as we got into Winter, things were tight financially,  I really hated to start buying feed..stopped by a pumpkin patch after the Halloween season was over and hauled home 4 pick up loads of pumpkins.  That got us by into the middle of Winter.   Then I was able to get some ear corn from a couple of farmers who hadn’t gotten their crops picked before the heavy snow.    A lot of busy work trying to keep one pig supplied with feed on a shoe string budget.

Water

It averages $30 a month per heater to keep the water thawed for out door livestock.   That is a major drain on your budget if things are tight.  I did come up with a couple of ways around the water heater issue.  If you’re interested, let me know.

So here’s my question..is there anybody out there on a small acreage, able to raise 90% of their own food for the year, that hasn’t spent thousands of dollars on fancy hobby farm equipment?

Talk to me…I want details

I would love to give you some space on the blog to write a series of “how to” pieces.

Close with a picture some of you have seen more than once..its a picture of Winston our pet pig and myself, taken last year:

(The reason I have such a serious look is because I knew the next day, I was going to have to load Winston up on a trailer and send her to the locker.  We had donated her to a local camp for the handicapped and they were going to have her butchered. :-( )

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Update June 2014.  This blog post continues to be the most popular post on my farm blog.  For an update on our goals/ thinking, etc. since I originally penned this, feel free to check out this link.

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About DM

sitting on my grandpa's farm porch with Feedie
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39 Responses to The real deal on being self-sufficient on a One Acre Homestead

  1. brittany220 says:

    I love that picture of you and Winston, I do remember seeing it before. She looks like she is happy and smiling. You sure have had some great experiences living on a farm!

  2. Rosanna Seabold says:

    Doug – this is really excellent ‘food’ for thought. I often wondered the realities of this lifestyle. We all dream of it (at least I do), but even my rudimentary understanding of what it takes for me to just keep my tiny garden producing makes me know better than that photo of the ideal acre. The weeding alone makes me crazy!

  3. Lis says:

    Thank you for this! I too was intrigued by the Mother Earth article and read it online. The article itself is somewhat contradictory – the title states “self-sufficient”, yet also wants you to buy in a minimum of 1 ton of hay to feed the cow through winter! Ummm . . . what?

    I do wonder though if perhaps something like what they are describing would be more possible with a few tweaks. For instance, they did suggest perhaps a couple of dairy goats could be successfully raised without the huge amount of hay buy in for winter (possibly none/little???). From my research, it would seem that a single standard-size dairy cow might produce far more milk than a small family would ever need. If you’re only trying to support 2-5 people, perhaps dairy sheep pr goats would be a better livestock option.

    Also, you mentioned all of the wildlife issues and expenses you encounter. Perhaps a slight change of location would be a way to circumvent some of these issues? (not you personally, I’m saying this more for someone looking for a new place to make this work). For instance, growing up, it was not uncommon for the standard yard to be between a third and half an acre. My friend who lived less than a mile away lived on just barely under an acre, and her yard was pretty standard in her neighborhood (it was a tad on the large side of average, but not by much, and there were more than just a couple surrounding homes with same size or larger yards). Please keep in mind, these are pretty ordinary middle class suburban neighborhoods. This is not a “rural” area. Just some older middle class neighborhoods. If, for example, you were to purchase my friend’s childhood home, you’d have just under an acre of land which already has a 4′ chain link perimeter fence around the back yard (probably 2/3 of the property). You’d have a nice but not huge house (4 bedrooms, 3 baths) with a great basement (food storage, anyone?). You’d have some nice mature trees, including 2 nut trees and 2 oaks, but still plenty of open land for animals and plants. Your rabbit problem would still be real, but nothing like in a rural setting. Your deer problem would be non-existent. Many areas now allow poultry and goats, although it’s best to check.

    One last thought – the breeds chosen for your livestock may make a huge difference. Some heritage breeds were developed specifically for their ability to forage and grow almost entirely on what they could glean for themselves. Many of the more modern industrial breeds just cannot do this. I’d be curious to know if you have any first-hand experience with how this might or might not affect the amount of purchased feed required?
    _______________________________________________________________
    Lis, let me give that last question a little thought. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this post! Always fun to hear from reader. DM

    • Lucy says:

      We just got a house with 1.5 acre, moved there strait from the apartment in the middle of the town. So far, we got 5 chickens that should start lay eggs by next month. They free range so my bag of food lasts about 10 days for them. I started a garden – little bit of everything, planted 14 fruit trees. We have about half land fenced in and want to get another half done soon. We don’t have wild animals around – one bunny I see occasionally. We live in Zone 7 so it doesn’t get too cold. I don’t think getting a full size cow is a good idea but mini cow only grow 38-40 inches and could provide just enough milk for family of 5 (and should be enough for cottage cheese or butter).
      I hope to get to the point of about 60% self efficient. BUT having your own organic veggie, having a great outdoor exercise (rather then spend it in Gym) is worth a lot to me.
      _______________________
      Good for you! Sounds like you are doing some fun/ exciting things. Instead of a small cow, have you ever thought about a milk goat? DM

  4. Marianne says:

    Oh, I had to laugh when I was reading all this! I feel your pain – earlier this morning I was thinking that I should blog about ‘the dream vs the reality’. We have about 4-1/2 acres in the weeds of central Kansas, trying to do the self sufficient thing.
    _______________________
    Marianne, let me know if you write that post…I want to read it :-) …we can compare notes. DM

    • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

      I would like to read it as well… I get so tired of the fantasy and want to hear more about the realities!

  5. We have been working on this idea now off and on for 14 years–it is much more complex than the article in Mother Earth News or any other makes it appear. The real limiting factor in all of this is TIME! if you can afford to be on the land, investing your time and energy without having to work off site for a living, then it is a totally feasible idea. However, if you are working off site and/or raising younger children and/or suffer any kind of long-term illness preventing you from working hard, then you will not be able to become self-sufficient. But to the degree that you and your family are less dependent on others, you have gained something valuable:)
    ____________________________
    Melanie, thanks for stopping by! Appreciate your thoughts on this one too! DM

  6. CL Parks says:

    I actually came across your blog right after reading the article you cited. While I didn’t grow up on a farm, I did spend tons of time on my mom’s friend’s farm as a child. The first thing I thought while reading the original article was ‘how in the world could you keep all that livestock on one acre?’ That, of course, ends up being less than one acre due to the home lot, and all the food gardens. There would be no way to keep your cow fed when there’s no pasture to send her out.

    As far as keeping the water thawed – I have a coop with 9 chickens. During the winter I keep a smaller tub of water and change it out 2-3 times/day. I’m a stay at home mom/author so I have the time and luxury to keep going out. You mentioned you had other ideas of keeping the water thawed. Care to share?
    __________________________
    Yep I will share ;-) I came up with 2 ways to get around the $30 per month electric bill for the water heater…Way #1 We have a room under our front porch w/ a window that faces to the south…only way to access it was through the basement…so technically, it is part of the basement but not really…the temperature down there usually stays above freezing (except when it’s really cold) so I put the chickens down there a couple of winters in the row… Way # 2…I put in a large widow in the south side of our old barn constructed a small room/ insulated the ceiling and sides w/ hay bales…most days the solar energy would warm up the area enough again to keep the water from freezing.. Thanks for asking. DM

  7. oceannah says:

    Hey DM 90% is a pretty lofty goal! MEN is selling an lifestyle idea…fancy notions. I used to like the magazine much more than I do these days. We grow those items that are most expensive to buy organic.
    Nice article.
    *anna
    _________________________
    Anna, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post! DM

  8. scott says:

    We live on a couple of acres and raise much of what we eat. We have 50 chickens, a milk goat, a cow. I have found that a garden is so much better at feeding us, along with chickens. The goat does give us milk, but it takes grain ( at 14 dollars a month). Chickens we have raised free for years ( thanks to a local food bank that we get all their leftover bread). We have raised and butchered hundreds of chickens and find it is cheap and not to hard. We get chicken manure for the compost. Cows take lots of our lands resources, we have an acre in pasture and the goat and the cow keep it mowed down. In the winter we have to buy hay, but we give the cow and goat bread and corn stalks, carrots and whatever else they will eat. We raised 7 children living simply and it has been a good life for us.

    • Brian Browne Jr. says:

      Thanks for that brief description, Scott. We are expecting our 6th and 7th children in May, and are hoping to replicate what you’ve described over the next couple of years. Do you have any more info on how things worked for you?

  9. I had the same reaction when I read that article. It is based on a section in a book I own, I think it’s “The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency” by John Seymour? One of the original back-to-the-land books from the 70s.

    John definitely lived the life he wrote about, but he had more than one acre. My guess is that section of the book was scaled down from what he was familiar with, and it really assumes that nothing ever goes wrong. I think most of the people who bought that book were armchair smallholders, who just enjoyed reading about the good life and poring over the intricately drawn farm plans :-).

  10. Just noticed – there was a more realistic follow-up article after that one was published: http://www.motherearthnews.com/modern-homesteading/one-acre-self-sufficient-homestead-zm0z11zkon.aspx
    __________________________
    Awesome….Darren..thanks for the tip! DM

  11. rcj says:

    “Your deer problem would be non-existent.” LOLOL!!! Wow you don’t live in my suburb! I routinely have deer (as do my neighbors) come browsing into my yard, all the way to the back of my suburban acre — behind the house! One year, my dog killed a porcupine in the back yard, and we routinely have skunks and marmots. So there are real problems with wildlife in suburban areas, too.

  12. Jim Smith says:

    I read the Mother Earth article and got tired just thinking of the amount of work involved with keeping it all together.I live in the tropics(Fiji) on half an acre and I suppose i am almost self sufficient sort of maybe.I have fruit trees and a vege garden and 130 chickens(free range) for eggs that i sell and 30 broilers for meat that I eat and sell.Most of the people around me are self sufficient but here I think it’s called subsistence farming which sort of means poor but happy making babies.
    It must be hard living the way you guys are talking about with water freezing and all those wild animals to contend with, the only thing we have here are rats and mongooses which are bad enough.It never gets cooler than 15 deg celcius and not more than 35 so that makes things a lot easier straight off eg no heating and not much clothing.Things grow prolifically the biggest challenge is slowing down the growth.
    My thoughts are that it is good to grow things but no person is an island and you will need to have some money so it is really a matter of balance and another thing is you don’t want to work yourself to death that ain’t no fun.
    Another thing I have noticed about this self sufficient thing is a lot of the people who are into it want to get away from other people,what’s that all about.When you do farming like this you really need other people to help,there is a lot of work and what if you want to go away for a bit or you get sick then what.Many hands make light the work and who really wants to eat all that food by themselves any way. What.s the point.
    Excuse my spelling and hopefully I haven’t offended anyone,just some thoughts.
    Cheerio for now
    Jim
    ________________________
    Jim, I love love love your comments…words of wisdom from someone who is actually doing it. Appreciate you taking the time to check in.DM

    • Jim Smith says:

      Doug,Thanks for you kind words it is always nice to know that there are other people around who feel and think the same way you do otherwise you can start to think that you are going a bit nuts.
      It really is a bit of a funny old life.
      Over here where I live in Fiji they grow mostly sugar cane on small farms(10 acres)the land is ploughed by oxen and harvested by hand.People still ride horses to work or town or catch the bus.Town has a market which the farmers sell there produce in everyday bar Sunday.Everybody pretty much knows everybody else so going to town is a bit of a social occasion and for some from the remoter areas it is a real treat.Some of the people here would really like to live somewhere else overseas with shopping malls and suburbs and such like because they have grown up with this life but want something else which they think is better.Now for some of us who grew up overseas and had the city suburban life with shopping malls etc we now just want to grow stuff ,watch chickens and kid’s for entertainment and go into town and talk about the weather.Like I said it is a funny old life.
      The trick I think is to just do what you can where you are at now with what you have and be happy with it, otherwise you are never really going to be anywhere but living in the future some place.
      Just some more thoughts from the South Pacific.

      Cheerio for now
      Jim
      _______________________
      Your words reminded me of an account I read today about Michael Jordan http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/02/21/when-greatness-meets-emptiness-michael-jordan-at-50/

      The article talked about how unhappy he is. His whole identity is wrapped up in his past. He does not know how to find peace now that he is no longer the center of attention.. Last night as I was enjoying a meal of steamed potatoes, onions and green beans, I thought there was nowhere else in the world I wanted to be @ that moment. .Peace of mind is a priceless gift. DM

    • Zoe says:

      “no person is an island”
      Jim, you’ve nutshelled the primary problem most people have when venturing into this sort of a lifestyle. The illusion that so often is promoted that it’s go it alone. While it can be it’s life consuming and limiting.
      Like you I work with others. A co-op of 16 like minded friends each of us having an acre or nearly an acre of land. We share the work and the bounty. Most of us work at least part time if not full time and have families. One member lives bordering free range ( BLM) land which is a god-send. We all house our cows there which saves much of the feed cost.
      This is an alternative to those wishing to raise their own beef but find it cost prohibitive. Often ranchers with access to BLM range land will, for half the meat at slaughter, raise your potential meal. I live in the high desert of New Mexico so face both the high and low temps. The last couple years have been a struggle given NM has been in a lingering drought but we’ve managed.
      Being self-sufficient doesn’t mean being your own island.

      • Jim Smith says:

        Thanks Zoe.
        Sounds like you have got a nice thing going where you are,it is always better with other people to share it all with.The “self”sufficient thing is a bit of a off put for me actually I prefer to think of group sufficiency these days.As they say here in the Islands “How can you be happy eating your food when you know the family next door has nothing to eat ?” The answer is pretty simple really your either “self”ish or not.
        Cheers for now Jim
        Hope you get some nice rain soon Zoe

  13. Kate W. says:

    Although I think the article simplifies it too much, we are able to do some of the suggestions in a budget smart manner. We barter a lot or trade labour. All the hay for our goats was “earned” by spending a day helping another neighbour hay. I mix my own chicken feed, which is much cheeper than pre-mixed crumble. Live traps help keep critters down and a dog certainly helps keep varmints out of the gardens. Our fencing was made from mill-ends (sawmill waste wood from the sides of the logs) that we got for free, or a wattle fence that we made from saplings on our property. No fancy heating for animal’s water….just trudging out to the barn several times a day during the winter to toss out the ice and add more water. Stale bread can be gotten for dirt cheep from the bread factory outlet. Appropriate kitchen scraps go to the hens, rabbits and or goats.
    Kate
    ______________________
    Thank you Kate for your comments! I LOVED the details. DM

    • Harry H. says:

      The stale bread from the outlet is a godsend for both chickens and pigs.
      ___________________________
      We used to pick up quite a bit of day old bread for ourselves back in the day ;-) thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Harry! DM

  14. keithbarrier says:

    I subscribe to MEN and Grit. While I do find some of their articles useful, I think sometimes they are a little misleading. A couple years ago, we decided to give up the urban life and move back to the family farm I grew up on. We have about 40 acres to work with and while we are not yet farming on that large of a scale, we are working on it. We grow enough veggies to eat fresh in the summer, share some with family and “lay by” as my grandparents would have said for the winter months. We have at least an acre in veggie garden space (and adding more this year). We plant mostly heirloom seeds except for sweet corn (just cant help loving some peaches and cream) so we can save seed from year to year. Even with saving seed, we still spend $50 or so a year on seed.

    This year, we decided to add an orchard to the homestead. We set out about 15 fruit trees, some blueberry bushes and muscadine vines. That is at least another acre. Granted, that will provide far more fruit than we will need as a family, and we are hoping to be able to sell some in a few years when the trees really start producing good. We are hoping this will at least help pay for some of the other farm expenses.

    We have a 12×12 permanent chicken coop (not the fancy ones, just wood, tin and wire) with a large run that currently houses 7 laying hens and 2 roosters. We are getting 5-7 eggs a day which we use and share with family/friends. We have 10 black copper marin chicks and 10 amauracana chicks that should be laying by fall (the hens anyway ;) ) so we are hoping to have enough to start selling eggs as well. We use the deep litter method, so we get plenty of good compost from the chickens to use in the garden.

    We also have rabbits (mostly white new Zealand) that we breed and sell. They are currently housed in cages in an old shed, but we are working on getting a colony built for them. With the rabbits, we get LOTS of manure for the garden, and since it doesn’t have to age, we can take it straight from the shed to the garden.

    We haven’t ventured into cows, goats or pigs yet. It seems a little uneconomical to have a dairy cow since you cant really sell the raw milk and we don’t really use that much milk. We have considered dairy goats but just not sure I want to deal with goats.

    We have a 42hp tractor and all the implements we need to work the garden and mow the fields that are not yet in pasture/crops. I inherited this from my grandparents, so no initial expense, however, its an older tractor and upkeep can eat into the pocket book pretty good. I have thought about buying a new tractor, but we are trying to do this without any debt and I cant afford to pay cash for a new one, so I just keep on fixing the things that break on the old one.

    All this to say, while I would like to believe one could be self sufficient on 1 acre, we are currently using at least 4 acres and I still work a day job to pay the bills and supplement the farm. Granted, we are only in our second year and we are already reaping the benefits of the first year (seeds, compost) I am not sure I will ever be able to just “retire” to the farm. My grandparents worked this land (and much more) raising corn/soybeans, pigs and veggies and my grandfather still had to work a day job. I am blessed with being able to do my work from home, so I can help out during the day with the farm chores and do part of my “day” job at night. I cant imagine trying to do this if I had to commute to work each day. I am also blessed to have family land, so we didn’t have to go into debt to get started.

    Even with all these advantages, we are still upside down as far as farm expenses go. I am keeping records, so hopefully I will know when (if ever) we actually break even.

    Sorry for the long reply, but you did ask for details ;)

    Blessings,

    Keith
    _______________________
    Keith, thank YOU for the long detailed reply. Practical stuff. You’re doing what many of the rest of us are thinking about doing. DM

  15. Jim Smith says:

    Hi Keith and DM

    Like DM said about your comments/reply good practical stuff,no head in the cloud’s dreaming but plenty of bent back and sweat.Keep going it’s only your second year it will get easier and the door’s will open and opportunities will start to present themselves.Keep on with the chickens and rabbit’s they will prove a winner in time to come,like I say over here if you look after your chickens they will look after you.
    All the best to you both and your families.

    Cheerio for now
    Jim

  16. Glenn says:

    I do alot of hunting and fishing and that helps tremendously as for keeping meat in the freezer. You would be surprised at the number of hunters who will gladly give you deer meat if you arrange it beforehand.
    ____________________________________________
    Glenn, that is a great tip! Thanks DM

  17. Eric says:

    Ok, I would like to chime in a bit on this. I live on 1/4 of an acre almost exactly, justoutside town, but in a neighborhood that is good for trick or treaters, to give you an idea what I have.

    My back porch is a herb garden, 100%. I grow every herb possible, also we grow tomatoes and cucumbers (we train them to grow up, not downand out).

    We have a small raised garden. Its about 20 x 40. I live in Tennessee, so our climate is nice for growing both a regular crop, and a fall crp (usually turnips/greens)

    We use rabbits, wrom farms, and have a chicken tractor, with a 10 foot extension we can put on it if we want. We have 4 hens in there. RIRs. lay almost without fail 4 eggs a day. We get 2 dozen, for three of us.
    My back yard is on a hill, and the grass/clover/weeds are THICK. I have into 3 small pasture for 2 sheep. We buy 2 lambs, grow them out to about 80-100 pounds, and slaughter.

    We have 1 male rabbit 3 does,. We rotate the breeding, 1 female a month gets bred, and they usually give us , on average 7 babies.

    IO fish a lot also,.

    UI just looked in our freezer. We have 5 rabbits, about 30 pounds of lamb (we didnt slaughter yet), and 70 or so trout (my wife and i are both very excellent Trout slayers)

    For breakfast, I ate an egg white omlette. Only the mushrooms and chesse were not produced by me. I had spearmint tea, which we grow also. Had some bread, which, i did not growthe grain, but I did grind and bake the bread. The jelly i put on that bread is ours.

    So, we are not 100% self sufficient, which is impossible I think, but we do just fine
    yOU HAVE to take it all in stages. Write down what you want to be self sufficient in, and then look at what land/time/money you have, and ask yourself ‘can i do that” If you cant, cross it off, and move to something you CAN.

    Also, find the easy things first. Being self sufficient in herbs was our first goal. We achieved that easily, and made us want to move to the 2nd part, which was eggs. AChieved. Then to meat, as much as we could, which we did with teh rabbits and fishing and lambs. Sure, we still buy other things, but if need be, we are fine with those 3 meat items.

    Make your goals. Sort them from easiet to hardest, Cheapest to most expensive, etc.

    Also, a few other things about the ‘feed’ I grow TRAYS UPON TRAYS of grass/grains for my rabbits. I use almost no feed for them. They growout a bit slower, but the cost is very very low.
    ________________________________
    Thank you SO MUCH Eric for taking the time to reply to this post. lots and lots of practical information. love it! DM

    • Eric says:

      3 does,. We rotate the breeding, 1 female a month gets bred, and they usually give us , on average 7 babies.

      IO fish a lot also,.

      UI just looked in our freezer. We have 5 rabbits, about 30 pounds of lamb (we didnt slaughter yet), and 70 or so trout (my wife and i are both very excellent Trout slayers)

      For breakfast, I ate an egg white omlette. Only the mushrooms and chesse were not produced by me. I had spearmint tea, which we grow also. Had some bread, which, i did not growthe grain, but I did grind and bake the bread. The jelly i put on that bread is ours.

      So, we are not 100% self sufficient, which is impossible I think, but we do just fine

    • Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

      That’s how I want to do it – small practical steps. Pork would be nice, but rabbits make more sense to a newbie like me . Thank you.

  18. Eric says:

    yOU HAVE to take it all in stages. Write down what you want to be self sufficient in, and then look at what land/time/money you have, and ask yourself ‘can i do that” If you cant, cross it off, and move to something you CAN.

    Also, find the easy things first. Being self sufficient in herbs was our first goal. We achieved that easily, and made us want to move to the 2nd part, which was eggs. AChieved. Then to meat, as much as we could, which we did with teh rabbits and fishing and lambs. Sure, we still buy other things, but if need be, we are fine with those 3 meat items.

    Make your goals. Sort them from easiet to hardest, Cheapest to most expensive, etc.

    Also, a few other things about the ‘feed’ I grow TRAYS UPON TRAYS of grass/grains for my rabbits. I use almost no feed for them. They growout a bit slower, but the cost is very very low.

  19. Eric says:

    I got a couple of emails on the ‘feed’ for the rabbits. 1) I do not go 100% away from pellets. I offer them, but I offer more greens/vege scraps and other trhings to them, and theyoften nibble the pellets only, they are the last choice on the menu. Sorta like green beans for most kids. They eat them if they are hungry, but otherwise, they get left on the plate.

    My worm farms are directly underneat my rabbits. I dont clean any rabbit trays. My worm farms are set-up in 3 tier systems. You can google this easy enough, but the bottom one is to catch all the drainage, which is really just ‘worm pee’ I guess. It is very nice for a spray, but also highly concnetrated. Please make a spray consisting of 1 part pee, 20 parts water.

    The 2nd tray is usually the current tray they are in. The top tray, has small holes in the bottom, for the worms to mvoe up to the top tray, once they have exhausted the current tray. Once they are all in the top, you empty tray TWo, and move back to the top to fillit up.

    Your worm castings can be used directly, and are far better than rabbit manure.
    _____________________
    Eric, thanks for more details! Your last comment lit a fire under me to take a second look @ raising rabbits for meat. Thought you would appreciate knowing that. Also, here is a link to a Youtube video on how one person grows his own fodder without a lot of expensive equipment :

    :-) DM

  20. Mike says:

    Yep, a good dose of reality. I felt the same way when I saw that article.

    It IS very possible, BUT…

    I grew up on a “small” hobby farm of about 20 acres of prime farmland with good existing farm infrastructure and equipment. My grandpa and father had grown up on farms and had good knowledge. The limiting factor then was labor with a family of 5 and some friends around. “Self sufficiency” did not seem feasible or attractive to our family. (But that depends on how you define “self sufficient.) The farm DID provide great yields in lifestyle, health, community, etc.

    These days, I am attempting to become close to self sufficient on less than an acre inside a midwest urban core. In only our second year, I’m certain we have achieved a POTENTIAL 100% self sufficiency regarding food, in both calories and nutrition. BUT, we’re city dwellers because we like restaurants, and spending some free time going to concerts and cultural events, and more variety in our diets than we currently grow. And we’re vegetarian, and eat lots of raw, minimally processed food with lots of salads and greens in our diet. Some thoughts as they come to me, in no particular order:
    –It requires a specialized diet. To do it with a standard American diet would require far greater work at far less reward than we are willing to do. Once you limit your grains and meats, it becomes pretty easy.
    –#1 key, the book One Circle Garden, which demonstrates how to grow a complete diet in “one circle” of about 1,000 square feet (for a very active farming man, less for women and children.) Importantly, that includes growing your own fertility crops instead of importing fertilizer. We use this as a tool to cover our basic needs, then use other space to grow luxury crops and crops for trade.
    –Minimize labor: most of our garden beds are deep dug, trench composted beds, that are now no-till. They sport a permanent polycultural ground cover of perennials and self-sowing annuals. In that way, we do not dig, we do not weed (except for “harvesting”, both for eating and for composting.) And our beds are designed and positioned to harvest and store most of their water needs, except in extended periods of drought, at which point they can be flood irrigated with minimal effort. In addition, we “food forest” much of our space into self-sustaining “guilds.”
    –Sun Chokes are the highest calorie/SF crop you can grow, so they are our major calorie crop and provide great biomass for compost. They are becoming an increasing part of our diet, especially from fall-spring. We eat them: raw, roasted, fried, as latkes, as gnocchi, as flour in pancakes and breads, as several delicious soups, as sauces, as “potato chips,” and so on…
    –Minimize labor in food preparation. This is at least as important as anything to do with growing. As our grandmothers all knew, processing all that food takes more time than growing it! In addition to eating lots of unprocessed raw foods, make everything in massive amounts and eat it through the week. A batch of sunchoke soup will be our dinner or lunch every day for a week. We’ll add curry or something midway through. Then we’ll use it as a sauce…. Studies have shown that less variety in your diet is actually healthier for you.
    –We plan to have 3 chickens, as eggs are a major import for our diet, currently. That will move us really close to 80% or so of our non-eating-out diet.
    –Hull-less oats and barley. Being hull-less, they’re the only grains I’ll grow.
    –“Weeds” are a MAJOR part of our diet, at least once a day through the growing season if not at most meals: chickweed, mustard garlic, lambsquarters, dame’s rocket, mushrooms, amaranth, plantain, chicory, evening primrose, poke, milkweed, purslane, ground cherries, ramps, etc.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t even try to grow a “self sufficient” standard American diet. It’s not impossible, but to me, it’s not worth the time, work, or sacrifice. And I’ve come to find our diet both healthier and tastier anyway.

    Thanks again,
    ________________________
    Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to share details on this topic! I appreciate your taking the time to do so. This will have the opportunity to touch literally hundreds (if not thousands) of people who read this post. DM

  21. Chris says:

    Wow. This is amazing. I want my next home to have farm acres with it, but I didn’t know how to think about the farming aspect and details. This blog has given me a formative series of ideas on how to approach my vision of a semi-self sufficient farm.

    Thanks
    Chris in Atlanta
    ___________________
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment Chris. I always enjoy hearing from someone who has taken the time to read some of my posts. DM

  22. BillBob says:

    Thanks for some great insights into a self sustaining lifestyle. Great posts here. Although I live (presently) in a suburban area, I am always interested in learning how to increase my ability to produce more of my daily needs. I especially like the lifestyle advice I am reading, this is about much more than raising food efficiently, it is about a whole approach to living that is very exciting.
    ____________________________________
    Thanks for stopping by! DM

  23. George says:

    For what it’s worth. To be self sufficient always stick with tools and learn how to use them.
    1 – Water frozen.
    Setup gray water retrieval and filter system and piped it through a homemade outdoor boiler.
    All materials were scrap. Cost of boiler was the welder and several years learning how to use it.
    2 – Built ceb block building (also heated from wood boiler). Used this to create a hydroponics garden. (Grow year round.)
    There are many other things that we have done, but you have to understand I have spent 30 plus years learning the skills I needed to get to this point.
    Thirty years of researching alternative ways to solve a problem.
    Most importantly thirty years of getting sick and tired of being a slave to utility companies, credit card companies, and yes even the company I work for. It can be done, but not by most people. Think of it this way would you go out and do heart surgery on your neighbor? If you have the knowledge you most likely will not have the equipment and if you have the equipment you must posses the knowledge.

  24. Debbie says:

    Just happened upon this site and thoroughly enjoyed reading the posts! We live on sugar sand and my daughter has horses (she buys her own feed and hay) so I use strictly horse manure on my garden which is less than 1/2 acre. There were plenty of wheelbarrow and muck bucket trips but the garden is relatively close to the barn and which of us couldn’t use a little more exercise? We have a good tiller and it works just great! I plant dang near everything including herbs and we had FAR more than we needed for a family of 4. We had so much stuff we couldn’t GIVE It away. When we got sick of eating or freezing kale and other greens, beet, turnip, etc., I started up the dehydrator. You can use dried greens in everything from soup to herb bread. I even mixed ‘em in pizza crust (Yes, I am a sneaky mom!) Make corn syrup out of the cobs after you have cut your corn off. Four or five rhubarb plants will supply you with as much jam and sauce as you care to make. Rarely do we have to buy any “garden” type stuff at the store…so I believe you can sustain a family on a very small plot, especially if you plant pole-type veggies. For meat if you invest in a buck and two doe rabbits (I think we paid $5 apiece for them back in the day!) you will have plenty “tastes like chicken” meals to last you through the year. Rabbit manure is great for the garden.
    __________________________
    Thank you Debbie for your comments! Love hearing from someone who has stopped by the blog :-)DM

  25. Jane says:

    I came across your blog and recognise many of the issues that you talk of. I believe that being truly self sufficient is pretty much impossible on any acreage – there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all!
    That said, self sufficiency does not necessarily mean producing everything on the farm but can also mean producing enough surplus to barter or purchase the things you don’t produce eg. Meat for hay.
    It’s possible to provide your family with a substantial amount of food and other commodities from a few acres. We are a family of four and are able to produce about 60% of our food (a year’s supply of fruit and veg, eggs, all our meat, honey, maple syrup) and sell enough surplus to cover the costs of running our homestead and purchasing our other food. We also heat our house and water with our own wood and solar energy and mill our own lumber for buildings and furniture. Every year we move closer to self sufficiency by adding new things.
    It’s a life that I love and while very rewarding it’s hard work and you have to have a strong desire to live this way.
    _____________________________
    Jane, thanks for taking the time to say “Hi” I just visited (and subscribed) to your blog. Also watched that interview clip of you and your husband on Youtube. I would love to come to your farmer’s market and meet you both.! Love what you are doing on your property. DM Here’s a link to that clip of anyone is interested in watching : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bwBG1jqzKc

    • Jim Smith says:

      Well said Jane and a lovely natural you tube piece.I couldn’t agree more with your last comment on desiring to live that way as it is a lot of hard work henceforth why most people continue to work and live in the cities as materially it is easier.So all the best to you and your family in the country and for those that are thinking about a life change all I can really add is that it is better to regret something that you did rather than something you didn’t do.Or put another way, very few people will lie on there death beds and say I wish I had spent more time at the office.
      Cheerio for now
      Jim

  26. Laura says:

    We just started the process of homesteading about 6 months ago. I have chickens, rabbits and a 1/2 acre garden right now, we eventually plan on having 2 goats. Finding someone to plow at a reasonable price has been an issue, and we do plan on getting a tractor.
    Is it cost efficient? No. But its what we want to do to have the life we want to have. A lot of people buy things that are not cost efficient. Boats, luxury RVS.
    _____________________________
    that is a great point! :-) DM

    • Jim Smith says:

      That’s the whole point of doing it,to get free of doing things that are logical but soul destroying in the end.
      We go to school to get an education so we can get a better job so we can buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t really like ! You can’t put a price on feeling good about growing food.It just is what it is.
      Enjoy getting back to nothing Laura.
      ____________________
      thanks for stopping by Jim! DM

  27. susan says:

    I love this look at reality. I think it is all to easy to get mesmerized, especially with a cute little diagram. We’ve been operating our small farm for 4 years, and each year there are lessons learned so we try to improve as we go. We have 2 and half acres, and we have livestock, and poultry. On 2 acres, you need to buy hay. Your pasture won’t sustain livestock for long, and you have to rotate pastures, etc in order to let the grass grow. Hay costs money. Seed costs money. Like you said, those eggs do get expensive when you factor in the feed. You made some great points in regard to equipment and fencing. Something else that I noticed the article lacked, vet bills, and if you have a horse, farrier service (unless you trim your own, I do not) . Sure you can give your own shots, clean up wounds etc, but with livestock, horses or domestic animals, you can surely bet there will be a time where you need to call the vet. Even if that’s only once a year, all the other health care items including all the cleaner, bleach etc, it all adds up.
    So, before one jumps in head over heals, I’d suggest take it slow. Start small, growing a few veggies and expand. Pick one animal, figure the costs, then expand if you can afford and room allows. I wouldn’t trade our farm for anything, but it does cost money (farm poor), it’s a lot of work, and you have the realities of dealing with extreme weather, insects, crop fails and everything else that can go wrong, at one time or other, will. You need to plan, and have backup plans.
    Also wanted to add- we free range our hens, but we also throw feed, scraps what have you, it still factors into costs.
    ___________________________
    Thank you so much Susan for taking the time to share your experiences…that’s what makes this blog post in particular so enjoyable for me…hearing from people like you who are actually trying to pull this stuff off and then sharing your real life experiences. DM

  28. John Sherck says:

    Excellent series of posts and comments. I have been entertaining the notion of self sufficiency farming/gardening for years. While I have a lot of respect for Mother Earth News, I agree that many of their DIY scenarios look good on paper, but become problematic in practice. They at least give a good starting point for considering the creation of the ideal mini-farm. My farm is 8 acres, of which over half is wooded. Of the remaining 3 acres I grow approx. 30,000 sq foot of plots. After 20 years of growing organic produce for market, I decided it was time for a more sustainable approach. Vegetables like tomatoes (our main crop) and peppers can be very taxing on the soil, even in a 3-4 year rotation. I opted for eliminating produce sales completely and focusing on staple crops like grains, dry beans and root crops. This has helped me to formulate a soil building strategy which I hope, in time, will eliminate the need for any off farm inputs. I rely on composting for some nutrient replenishment, but the rotation of carbon crops like wheat and rye, with legumes like pinto beans, soybeans, clovers and alfalfa are going to be my primary solution for maintaining soil fertility and health. This means shooting for 90% staples and only 10% for annual vegetables. The real benefit is the ability to produce a large portion of calories and protein for our own consumption. To replace the vegetable sales we are venturing into the world of open-pollinated seed production (small scale with a targeted local market, we hope). I do have a small tractor for tilling, but all the harvest and processing of the beans and grains is done by hand. I use a scythe for harvesting most grains and we have a treadle powered grain thresher. In time we will add a de-huller (for rice and millet) and eventually a small hand-powered sorghum press. I work the land by myself mostly with a little help from my wife in the summer. She is a school teacher, and without her income this whole self-sufficiency concept would have never gotten off the note book paper.
    The bottom line for me is that, any way you figure it, growing even a portion of you diet is an enormous commitment of time (few vacations if any) and a heck of a lot of hard work. With all the crazy weather of late, this task is going to become even more challenging, still I wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for any other. Last year we raised 20# rye, 30# wheat, 30# rice, 40# flour corn, 20# sorghum grain, some teff and millet. All these crops were raised in plots averaging 500-700 square foot. I also raised 75# heirloom soybeans, 30# pinto beans, 30# black turtle beans, dry lima beans and peanuts (for roasting and pressing for oil). There is also plenty of tomatoes for processing, as well as sweet potatoes, garlic, lettuce, squash, etc. We do not raise livestock but purchase our meat locally and have a local supply of fresh milk products. This is just a framework but I hope I am headed in the right direction. I think true self sufficiency is impossible; we will always need the help of our immediate neighbors and local community. What I aim for is “sufficiency growing” and that would be enough.
    _______________________
    thank you for your thoughtful, detailed comment John. I really appreciate it.! DM

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