Episode-1802- Your First Year on a New Homestead – Taking Actions without Regretting Them — 9 Comments

  1. Damn, I wish I could have listened to this episode eight years ago. Or three years ago. Or last year. I’ve made pretty much every mistake that was cautioned against. There was so much fantastic advice here.

    For example, last year was my first year with chickens. Rather than start small and smart, I jumped in with 37 birds, of which we “graduated” 17 to the freezer. This still left us with 20 birds — and our lot is only about 1.3 acres. Why did I do it like this? Because I wanted to run a system like Geoff Lawton’s “Chicken Tractor on Steroids” without considering that what he’s doing is on a small farm scale where I’m on a suburban/exurban homestead scale. I also ended up scrambling to get infrastructure (such as a chicken tractor) done after the birds had arrived instead of having everything set up first.

    This year, rather than learn from that mistake I doubled down, getting a run of 19 meat birds along with another 9 pullets to rotate my egg laying flock, in two separate orders. So now I have 3 sets of chickens to care for, which basically takes 3 times as long to manage than just the one set of birds. Truth be told, these time demands are more than what I can reasonably handle, and everything else ends up suffering as a result. I had the idea of scaling up my composting operation as much as I could at a homestead scale and see what demand there was in the local market (to determine if I could really scale it up to a larger scale on leased land with lots more chickens), but reality — and a recent response from Jack to my question on a listener feedback show — has helped me to see that this isn’t really a viable path right now.

    On an aside, the advice on “number of projects” is also dead-on. I’m fully guilty of having somewhere around 5-6 projects all going on at the same time, and none of them are getting done. If you want to keep you significant other happy, then follow Jack’s advice and don’t do what I have done.

    But it’s not all bad, because the thing I’ve realized through it all is that when you get feedback that what you’re doing isn’t working, then you can always pull back, regroup, tighten up your operation, and move forward from there. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m selling off a bunch of my 1 year-old hens this summer, we’ll cull the meat birds for the deep freezer, and I’ll move my operation to the outside perimeter of the garden and keep composting there. Then I can actually concentrate on my vegetable garden and turn it into a truly integrated operation in space and time with my chickens, and the forest garden will be just a short wheelbarrow trip from the composting operation. I figure I can do this with the infrastructure I currently have in place (with minor modifications), which will then free me up to finish the projects I currently have open as well as spend more time just playing and hanging out with my wife and kids.

    Fantastic show Jack. Thanks for putting it out there.

    • Glad to hear from you I have thought about you a few times since answering that question and had hoped you were doing better.

      • Thanks again for your honest and detailed answer to my question on that show Jack. I really just needed a gentle nudge in the direction I knew deep down I needed to go. With 2 PDCs (a local one and Geoff’s online course) and a P.E. license as a civil engineer, I know that my independent income path lies much more in the realm of regenerative site design — but I had allowed my desire for a homestead to overwhelm my ability to do that design work as well as the rest of my life. It’s not “failure,” it’s “feedback”. I’m taking that feedback, regrouping, and trying a different approach. I just have to hold on to the conviction that eventually I’ll hit something that it all comes together, which is sometimes difficult when you developed the idea early on in life that failure was something that was just not acceptable. This sometimes leads to me sticking with things that aren’t working under the belief that I just have to push harder, instead of falling back and doing something different. I guess we all have our own imperfections and defects that we have to try and figure out how to deal with or work around.

  2. Thanks for this, Jack! This couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We’re in the process of buying four acres with a house in middle Tennessee where we will move next month. I’ve been thinking about where to start and what to do on the property this first year, and this is solid gold. Much appreciated!

  3. Hey Jack,

    Thanks for making this episode! We are now one month into our 5.5 acres and I’m trying to figure out the best way to do water. I’ve seen people like you do buried PVC, but Jean Martin Fortier uses something that looks like fireman hose so it is super adjustable. Do you have any thoughts on the best way to do the “main trunk lines” for irrigation?

  4. Great show. I too have learned a lot of this the hard way (a.k.a. “the expensive way”).

    My solution is a bit different from what’s recommended here. I created a “Time budget”. I allow myself 30 minutes a day for maintenance chores. That is to say, without starting any new projects, I have 30 minutes per day to handle routine tasks like feeding animals, watering and weeding the garden, etc.

    Before I start a new project, I assess it in terms of “Does this create more work or reduce work for me?” and if it creates more work, I need to reduce my time spent on existing on other projects. If it takes 30 minutes a day to water all the gardens with a hose, I have no time for anything else. But as Jack said, install an irrigation system. If that’s on a timer, my daily work in irrigation is reduced to 0 minutes, and I have time for other work. Only then would I start a new project.

    This system allows you to break up big jobs into small, effortless tasks. Instead of spending all day on a weekend once a month weeding the garden, I do 5 minutes a day, then stop. No fatigue sets in, no strain from bending down for hours at a time. You can clear 10 square feet a minute moving at a fairly slow pace. That 5 minutes a day is 35 minutes a week, or 2 hours and 20 minutes a month. Because you’re always doing it, nothing goes to seed, so it gets easier as you go, and you get the side benefit of spending time every day in the garden, observing with regularity what is happening, adding to your experience.

    Also think seasonally, especially if you’re in the north. Your daily tasks change with the seasons. It’s easy to take on stuff in the winter when you have idle remaining in your budget, and then find yourself way over the limit in spring when other chores start popping up. In the winter, you’ll spend 30 minutes a day just tending a fire to keep the house warm. If you cut your own firewood, you can spread that out over the whole year with 5 minutes of splitting logs each day and stacking them for later.

    Here’s a look at my current homestead routine:
    5 minutes splitting and stacking wood
    10 minutes checking on animals (feeding and water is automated, but still need to clean manure, collect eggs etc)
    5 minutes a day weeding garden beds
    5 Minutes spent on “waste”. That’s tending compost piles (I cheat and turn them with a roto-tiller), also sorting trash, using paper, cardboard and fabrics into compost piles or using them under mulch layers as weed blocks, chipping yard waste (branches) for mulch, sifting out the recycling, and compacting the remaining trash.
    5 minutes on infrastructure maintenance. Mowing paths in the property with a brush hog, or cleaning gutters, oil hinges, other small repairs as needed. Basically “what can I fix today in 5 minutes or less?” then I do that. This is a big one, as it generally encompases all the little things you know need to be done, but can’t find the time for. Fixing a gate latch, tightening a high-tensile wire fence, re-setting a T-post from a leaning tree… if you look, you can find hundreds of these small jobs. Making the time to do them while they’re small problems will prevent wasting days on the larger repair jobs they will become if you ignore them.

    I omit cooking and cleaning chores from this budgeted time, but you need to leave time for them as well.

  5. Hi jack, I watched the video on trash can compost and was wondering about the tea. Doesn’t it all escape through the holes in the bottom?