Episode-1427- How Much Land is “Enough”

You Don't Need a Remote Mountain Retreat to Have a Homestead.

You Don’t Need a Remote Mountain Retreat to Have a Homestead.

Please Note – there was a major math error in today’s show which will create a future “Jack Was Wrong Segment”.  I don’t know why but in this show I said 208 x 4 was 2,496.  This is clearly wrong the correct number was 832.

This should of made the tree counts 80 at 10 feet and 40 at 20 feet spacings.  This is what happens when you do math in your head on the fly I guess, given 208x4x3 is 2,496 I guess I was thinking in yards and talking in feet.  In a round about way I guess I put my foot in my mouth!

There is no hard rule as to how much land is “enough” and in fact the question itself is generally flawed. The person asking such a question is generally asking it as such, “How much land is enough to provide 100 percent of my needs”? The reason said question is flawed is simply that you are NOT going to provide 100% of your needs, on your own, from any piece of land.

There are a number of reasons that this is the case. The biggest reason though is simply man hours. A piece of land can only yield so much production and each square foot of land under cultivation requires human interaction.

Even a wild berry bush must be picked if one is to eat berries. Sure hens lay eggs and a small flock is a great addition to your homestead if you can do it, but they must be fed, watered, housed, culled, etc.

Today I want to take a different look at this question, by applying 10 more questions to it, they are,

  1. How much land do you have to work with?
  2. What climate type are you in and hence what can you easily grow?
  3. How much time do you have to work on the property weekly?
  4. Of the things that grow where you live, which do you most like to eat?
  5. What type of budget and time line do you have for improving your land?
  6. How long do you plan to own the property?
  7. Do you just want personal production or some sort of income?
  8. What laws and restrictions must be considered in your area?
  9. Will you actively live on the land in question?
  10. How will you store and deal with the surplus beyond immediate use?

From there we will take a look at how I might design a simple square 1 acre property.

Resources for today’s show…

Bob Wells Nursery Plant of the Week – Cold Hardy Avocados Varieties include: Joey, Lila, Poncho, Brazos Belle and Fantastic. Adaptable from zone 8 to zone 10

Medium sized avocados weighing approximately 6-10 ounces and are egg shaped. They have excellent rich flavor and are known to be heavy producers. Cold Hardy Avocado trees that are mature have withstood temperatures as low as 15-18 degrees. We recommend covering the tree the first winter if the temperature drops below freezing. Once the tree has been in the ground for a year and is well rooted it then will begin to withstand the colder temperatures.

The older the tree gets the more, cold hardy it becomes. For those of you who live anywhere above zone 8, we have the Joey Avocado which is a semi dwarf variety that you can grow in a container, and bring it inside during the winter.  See All Avacado Varieties Currently Available at Bob Wells Nursery.

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40 Responses to Episode-1427- How Much Land is “Enough”

  1. So I guess then the question is… How do we get more “hands on deck” to help with the work on a farm to get these systems started? WWOOFing to start with? Community garden plots? Do we have other people bring their animals to the property to graze? The COST of setting up these properties even for 50% of growing your own food/animals is outrageous comparative to when I was helping my father with 250 acres 10-15 years ago. The other concern we have had since going on our homestead is time. We have had a few WWOOF’ers come out, and they were amazing. However, because of the size of our operation; it is a little harder to entice some people to come out here.

  2. “Do you have 5 hours a week.” Even further is do you have 5 hours a week, in perpetuity? That is one thing that I noticed with an annual garden, it can require an INTENSE amount of time. Always start small, and grow SLOWLY (on a garden). This has actually made us abandon our really large garden I put in completely by hand because to maintain it is, just too much, especially during the summer. I eventually found out that having “too much space” really warps your sense of use and making best use of space.

    Trees and bushes aren’t so bad. Prune a few times a year, make sure to mow around them, put mulch down once or twice a year, and just look at them and enjoy.

  3. Freddi Dunleavey

    Age should also be put into the “land” equation. As one ages, growing food and all that goes along with it gets harder.

    Also, how “good” are the growing conditions (aside from climate) of your garden area? Our’s is way too rocky, so we’ve been gardening in raised boxes using hay as our growing medium. Freddi

    • Modern Survival

      This is a big reason I am not too keen on annual cultivation any longer. Pruning a tree and picking some stuff off a bush is a lot easier than turning soil over and over again.

    • Age is a factor, however, as a homesteader in their 60’s I can honestly say we are still doing it and having fun with it. We have simply downsized and grow more fruit trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and berries. We sold our large 250+ acre location and moved to 10 acres. Allows us to still enjoy our rural life without the extra work load. We have the added benefit of still having all our equipment from our larger operation, tractors, skid steers, backhoes etc. Power equipment is your friend.

      • Freddi Dunleavey

        Sounds like you’ve got “it” under control! Just remember that in a worst case scenario, there most likely would not be any gasoline/diesel available, especially if the electric grid is down, so power equipment may be of little use.

  4. I am finding that people who need a place to plant, for what ever reason, are asking to have a space. We have been develping a 10 acre homestead and are into the third year. Our infrastructures went in first (irrigation and fencing)
    and the pond was completed last fall. We have irrrigation and drip lines in. I think the concept of allowing our friends to use a space we desire to develop and improve, is a win, win. We get the extra help on the production and at some point they may turn into our CSA customers in a u-pick system. Right now it is just giving space to grow vegetables for them, but we could eventually offer pastured areas for animal production too and charge for a “grass” lease/
    month. We already raise grass fed cattle for our own use and sell the excess. Might be an idea to “manage” livestock for people for a fee.

    • Great thoughts on stacking enterprises. Fiefdoms galore…we are in our first MONTH of a 40 acre homestead. I can’t wait to get started.

    • This is an English medieval idea of having lands in common between private owners on the manor land. You, Debra, are the manor owner, so to speak. The people planting vegetable gardens are the tenants, and having an area in common between the tenants used for grazing animals is called the common land or “the commons”.

      Just so you know. It worked in medieval times with 20 acres plots (in poor production areas using old farming methods). No reason it couldn’t work now in 10 acres with modern farming methods.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_land

      Alex

  5. This year began looking very promising. We had a nice cold winter, no surprise late frosts, and compared to other years our summer was relatively mild. Yet…my garden sucked BIG. Squash dies, tomatoes did not produce jack, peppers so, so. Other years I’ve had great production, at least enough to give away, not this year.

    The only thing we had abundantly was Swiss Chard. The fruit trees did great too. Okras, herbs and tomatillo did good too.

    Yep, I do believe I would starve if it came to it.

    • Where are you located Jose?
      I had a marginal year as well. Chard, Lettuce did well, beans were late. No where near the Jalapenos I had four years ago. My poblanos had a nice burst then *poof*. It was my worst year on record. Of course Hurricane Arthur visited Prince Edward Island as a strong tropical storm and damaged pretty well everything.

    • Suburban Gardener

      Yup, same here. Out of 15 tomato plants we harvested less than 5 pounds of tomatoes. In previous years, 5 plants might give us 30 – 50 lbs or more. As you say, peppers are doing OK. Sweet peas didn’t even start that year.

      I’ve converted over half of my remaining back lawn into planting beds for what will become a food forest. I’ll be putting in fruit trees this fall, and I’ll probably start my fall gardening with at least some perennials this weekend.

      As Jack said, even with a small plot of land you can do a lot, and as much as I would love to have 5 – 10 acres, the fact that I’m not able to put the level of effort I could 20 – 30 years ago suggests that might not be entirely practical. But once those trees, vines, bushes, and so on are established, I don’t see having too much problem keeping up with it. I don’t expect to 100% live off my little suburban lot, but I think its going to put me in a good position for trade, if the SHTF, or even if it doesn’t.

    • I’m in Frisco, TX (North of Dallas).

  6. It is not the amount of land you have, but how you use it. I live 12 blocks for the Wyoming state capital. I live on a corner of a block. 100’ long and 50’ foot wide. That even has two building on it. I keep 25 beehives, chickens, quail, turkeys, rabbits, front yard rain garden and plant all that I can. Not only do I make an income from my inner city homestead, I feed 60% of my live stock from it and 40% of my family’s meals. By putting in 3 hours every day on projects I have 15 hours of work done each week. With two people that is 30hours. This is like working 3 days for 8 hours. Never doubt yourself, or your dreams.

    Video of my “I am going to jail for my rain water.”
    https://www.facebook.com/moj666wyo#!/video.php?v=10201590202751724&set=vb.1677697954&type=3&theater

  7. My NH home on 2 acres is enough for me to deal with. It is mostly open with some trees along two edges. This year, I reclaimed the back acre that had been a lumpy 6 foot high weed field, so I can now start thinking of what to do with it. There’s probably more than I can handle with planting trees and bushes, and the small garden area has plenty of room to expand.

    I also have recreational land in Maine where I took the opposite approach… 200 acres of forest on the side of a hill with amazing views. It takes hours to bush whack across it, and I’ve only successfully reached the northern border twice in the last 5 years. Clearly, I won’t be working this land to any significant degree… it is trees, and I’ll let it grow and wildlife roam around. It’s size also keeps the neighbors away (5 neighbors within a 2 mile radius! and I know them all.) A billionaire just bought several square miles adjoining my land… not sure what his plans are for it, hopefully just to have a fancy remote retreat. Regardless, the size of my land will keep him well away from my future building site. I’ve been attempting to cut foot paths through it to let me get between key areas of the land quickly, but it has been challenging.

  8. I’m on 3.1 acres and that’s *plenty*. About 20% is cleared and I have about twenty raised beds and two greenhouses. It’s nonstop, plus I live alone. I harvest most of my wood fuel on the remaining acreage, which is a mix of White Birch and Black spruce. If I didn’t heat with wood, one acre would be plenty

  9. Just for people to note that some places having a certain amount of land can make your land a “farm” keeping your taxes lower and letting you get around other things as well like permits. I have 20 acres in Kentucky and my taxes are $95 a year.. Because I live on it and they consider it a farm. I’ve also been able to skip permits for running water in and out of my place because they consider it a “farm”.

    • Hey that’s great to hear! When you were looking at houses, was the land originally zoned residential? Or was it always zoned ag?

      $95/yr in tax certainly sounds appealing. 🙂

      Also, about how long of a drive is it to your nearest hardware store or grocery store?

      • When I bought the land it had an old trailer on it that I fixed up. The trailer and land was listed on the taxes. The guy I bought it from lived out of state and was paying right around $400 a year (I had to pay my half of his taxes that year) and ally tax bills for it were for $95. I think it might have been listed as residential but listed as farm after I started living there. I did nothing personally to change it and I don’t do any farm there (atleast not for profit). It is a drive though. 6 miles to the nearest town.. With a dollar store and a small ace.. Some grocery stores and a couple eateries. 35 minutes to work. No one bothers me (besides asking for veggies), no one tells me what to do with my property.. The only thing they will do is if you have a new building and they figure it out they will come looking for their part (aka higher taxes).

        • Thanks for the info! That’s pretty incredibly low taxes, I am definitely not in that situation. :/

          And a 35 minute drive does not sound bad at all. At the moment I am 35 minute outside Detroit, and also 40 minutes to Ann Arbor (home of University of Michigan, another economic center in Michigan), and about half an hour from anywhere; but I definitely don’t have any land, that’s for sure!

          Sounds like you have a great setup, good job finding such a great place!

        • No problem.. I’m only an hour ish away from cincy too. (I’ve don’t mold remediation on 9 mile outside of Detroit before). If you look outside the city belts you can find some land fairly cheap. 40k for my 20 acres.

        • I guess too as far as taxes go I’m in no city limits.. It’s all just county tax.

  10. The only points I think you missed are about greater and lesser community. Lesser community being family or group size to be supported and greater community being about the integration of neighbors and greater community. It would be hard to support oneself completely by oneself. I think the correct course to is prepare oneself to integrate into a group large enough to support the entire community, so the size of the land is only one third of the equation that also includes the efficiency of the land and the applicable skills of the inhabitants.
    So a person in a remote area of Alaska with little human contact would need a lot of land, but a family of skilled craftspeople with a solar powered off-grid workshop capable of creating parts inside a tight community would need very little land. Also a person with extensive seasonal extending equipment or chinampas would also need less land, because their land would be more efficient so more could be done with less.

  11. I just wanted to point out that some of us DO want to live the life where my family thrives entirely off the land. Regardless the sacrifices required.

    • Modern Survival

      You can want something it doesn’t me it is going to happen.

    • Have you achieved at any level of real level of self sustainment already? I think it’s an interesting accomplishment to be done and worth writing about, but not a long term future plan.

      I think it’s probably the most common thing people first get into and claim they want to do and then realize how much work it requires, and as you indicate sacrifice. “regardless of the sacrifices required” kind of puts me at a pause to consider the meaning of such a statement. So the most important part of your future is the living off the land part, rather than any sensibilities or enjoyments? Good luck.

      In no time in history has anybody “just lived off the land” by themselves. Never. Global trade has existed for thousands of years for a reason. The POSSIBLE exception to this might be various tribes in South America, but I’ll point out the word tribe and if I could underline it about 10 times.

      • There are a few exceptions. The one that come to mind is the Russian family that moved into the mountains and lived without any human contact: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/for-40-years-this-russian-family-was-cut-off-from-all-human-contact-unaware-of-world-war-ii-7354256/?no-ist. I think the correct answer is even if you could, you shouldn’t want to. Humans are social creatures.
        I think with the correct technology it is more possible today. With PAHS houses and greenhouses, add RMH stoves for aux heating and cooking, PV for electric, and then a gardenpool aquaponics setup. It is easier than it once was. You’d still need parts to keep everything going, and some base supplies like salt, but I think it is 99% possible.

        • Right. Even then a lot of the technology you’re talking about, requires outside contact. You’re almost indicating you’d be amish, which goes out and gets the things that they don’t produce locally.

          Aquaponics in particular. Aquaponics is the epitome in a lot of ways of isolated scientific growing techniques, which requires specific concentrated materials you’re just not going to produce in a non-industrial setting.

          Regarding of the technicals, I think trade is much more rewarding. Not to mention since the ancient greek days (maybe even before that) the idea of focusing attention on a single subject and getting good at it is generally best. There is a level of production of scale with just about everything where if you’re not hitting that minimums its highly inefficient and significantly wasting of your time and resources. No, I don’t think efficiency and total non-“wasting” resources is king, but when we’re talking about full human needs…. It’s a tall order.

          It’s one reason why HUGE families existed in the past. There is a minimum number of bodies needed to have a sustainable operation and the more we think “well just I will do the task” the more we’ll miss that important point. Technology allows us to replace repetitive work normally delegated to individuals, freeing up people to do more “people like things” (design / creativity). So you’re either going to go with high technology less people, or more people less technology. At least how I see it.

          Not saying it can’t be done for sure.

        • Richard Hauser

          I don’t think we are really disagreeing, but I will mention some points, as I think the tech should be interesting for this audience. As I said, you are right, people can’t live alone. Nothing I have mentioned will keep the inhabitants sane or give them fulfilling lives, but if we take this as a thought experiment, then I think it is 99% possible and as a thought experiment it is interesting. Especially if we take it as a model to magnify across a larger areas and a larger population.

          No, the tech I am talking about is pretty self supporting. The PAHS house and greenhouse should last nearly indefinitely as long as you replace some glass if it gets hit by hail and keep back the weeds. Glass making is definitely a skill that would be needed, but that would seem doable if you had access to even basic materials. PV only works for 20 years. The batteries could die before that, but it is possible that you could use NiFe batteries which could last 100 years. You could replace the PV with Peltiers, microhydro, stirling or steam. Other than the peltiers, these would also need parts, but they could be created at home in an advanced home shop. Cut electricity way back by switching to LEDs and using ammonia cycle refridgerators powered off the RMH.

          As for aquaponics, you are thinking of hydroponics. Aquaponics is using fish waste to grow plants and per a guy who seems pretty smart, you can do it with minimal input: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nIL9hWW3-Q It has much more limited production than hydroponics, but it should provide salad greens and a tiny amount of fish. The GardenPool guy has made a pretty good go of it on very little land. See GardenPool.org. The pumps may go after a while, but even that is being solved by switching to airlift pumps which could be designed to last decades or even centuries.

          Larger populations can allow economies of scale, but Permaculture seems to show me that most of those paths to economies that are dead ends. Yes, you need a lot of people to grow grains, but should we grow grains? The exception is manual harvesting of tree crops. Advanced tech could lead to mechanization and automation.

          As for going Amish, that isn’t far from the target except for the religious part. They get an awful lot right. They avoid debt. They have been excluded from Social Security and Obamacare, and are effectively self insured, which is a trick that should impress even Jack. So I would like to employ many of their tricks, especially the tech they developed/encouraged like air powered appliances, but I would definitely add tech that they would probably shun like LEDs over kerosene lights and electrical appliances such as automated sensors and watering devices. Also, I will not give up access to the internet while it exists.

        • I don’t think we disagree at all, I was just further illustrating or fleshing out the requirements.

          You’re right, I was thinking hydroponics. Too much hydro, aqua and ponics going around.

          The whole tech part that you fully fleshed out just makes me go meh? What’s the point? (Which is kind of your overall point). I really like the idea as a short term experiement, and an experiement to push yourself, to write about, but as something to strive for, is the sillyist most ridiculously short sighted thing one can hope for.

          Not to imply a “holier than thou” attitude about it, but I think having meaningful experiences and sharing them with people is better than being “100% self sufficient”. There is almost nothing to gain in 100% self sufficiency”, only things to lose.

        • Richard Hauser

          //The whole tech part that you fully fleshed out just makes me go meh? What’s the point?//
          Well that is too far. The tech is important because when magnified and distributed it could make communities self sufficient. This is important because in case of financial disaster or just escalated fuel prices then communities and individuals will effectively be more isolated.

          These technologies will free up time and resources. It is great to go out with your son and cut firewood to heat your house, but if you lived in a PAHS, then you wouldn’t need to, which would free up your time and allow those resources to be turned into hugels or mushrooms or whatever. That time can then be spent fishing or something else even more productive.

          Technology has gotten a bad rap because much of it is destructive, but some isn’t. I say cherish the good and dump the bad.

          So you don’t need to get all these things, but maybe someone in a neighborhood should have a large greenhouse. Another should have an aquaponics setup. Another a large PAHS house for gatherings. Another a large wood lot for firewood. That way the community can come together to form community based self sufficiency when necessary.

          So it is interesting to look at individual self sufficiency as it can guide groups to group based self sufficiency.

        • You’re taking what I’m saying way too seriously and far beyond what I mean. hah. Let me just stop you here, again and say we’re in agreement, not to mention 3/4 of your post was just saying what I said. (Technology can free up your time). I can see why you missunderstood the meaning behind my “meh” statement because I didn’t go into depth to what exactly I was referring to. It was that you were solving a problem, using unrealistic means, to solve a “problem” that doesn’t need solving. (How to be 100% self sufficient off land).

          The more time spent on the thought experiment is more time wasted not chinking away at real problems, which being 100% self sufficient or “living off the land” isn’t one of them.

          You mention glass, I’ll go ahead and point out further there are a million other skills you’d need, and resources you likely don’t have access to. What about metal working with tools? Need metal grade ore for that. Glass working? Amongst many things, you’d need plentiful sand. I’ll point out all of this has to be accomplished with out oil and with a limited number of people (a “family”).

          That would then require one to “prep for the journey” by bringing all sorts of unrealistic things with you that have a limited life span so one could supposedly “Self-sufficiency living off the land” which is why i said “meh”. It’s not really living “off the land” as much as it is isolating yourself (needlessly).

          Why even bother growing anything at all or even bothering with technology? I could back pallets of food up to a cabin that lasts 30 years, bring 30 years worth of water (or install all sorts of catchment), save enough money for 30+ years of property taxes, and just do nothing for 30 years. It would achieve the same thing.

        • I forgot to mention but the discussion was about “thriving off the land entirely”, not redundancies, resilient or anything of the sort.

          Of course technology applied by NUMEROUS people (producers and consumers) can help groups be more “self-sufficient”, which to be honest, is really more of a resiliency situation than “self-sufficient”. The world or a HUGE HUGE area is THE closed system, not a single plot of land that a single family is living on.

  12. Fantastic podcast!

    As someone who just finished Geoff Lawton’s PDC and who is planning to actually use it for a permaculture business this was very helpful. It’s not enough to just ask clients their objectives…these questions are great and help frame the problem (solution) when approaching design.

    “How much time do you have to work on the property weekly?” What a great question which can be completely in contradiction to the objectives of the clients. As designers we must bring about a reasonable plan that is set up for success.

    Great show Jack, thanks again.

    • You’re right on the money when you’re focusing on this “how much time a week” question. What’s worse is so many people, to include your potential future clients will fail to appreciate this at the level that it needs to be appreciated.

      Everybody would loveeeeeee millions of trees, gardens, chickens, animals etc… if they didn’t have to maintain them.

      • Exactly and I like the fact that these questions restrict the design and act as a forcing function to make it really thoughtful and good.

        And you’re right…the eyes are bigger than the stomach sometimes. Hmmm, I think I need to relook at the design of my property one more time through the lens of these questions. Fortunately, I’m in the design phase.

  13. Jack, I have not listened in a looooong time. This episode reminds me of why I started listening in the first place. Great show. Thank you.