Starting a homestead from scratch — with little more than a big piece of vacant forest land, no permanent structures, a few ponds, beavers galore, and an old F250 — has been nothing less than the greatest challenge of our lives. Well, that is … shy of raising teenagers, which is a lot like nailing jello to a tree, and we know — we have raised three. We started with no house, no barns, no fences, no gardens, no water — nothing … yes, this is a homestead from scratch. I am not sure if we had a mutual mid-life crisis (Eddie & I), or if we simply set out to fulfill a dream, or if we truly just grew THAT SICK of city life and the rat race and the crappy food … or if we have truly lost our flippin’ minds. It is probably all of the above and then some. But let me tell you, we are in DEEP with the homestead thang and we are fully committed! Here I will tell you the 20 most important things we did over the last 4+ years to get the ball rolling (although there were more, we will stop at 20).
As you may know, tomorrow is our “facebook shoutout” day with 29 other wonderful homestead blogger friends on the Homestead Bloggers Network and I thought this was a good opportunity to take a minute, sit back, and give you all an idea of what we have done with our land so far. Why? Because, this is a baby blog — just went live on August 1, 2013 and have a mere 17 posts so far but dozens of ideas. That is a meager drop in the bucket, comparatively speaking. That said, this is not about comparing ourselves to other homesteaders (or their blogs) because we can’t …. we are where we are and we are just glad you are here. Nor is this about how long ago we should have started this blog and didn’t. This is about what has gone on behind the scenes “down on the land” (as we say) for the last 4+ years trying to get this thing off the ground. THAT is what this post is really about. You haven’t heard much about that in previous posts, and at this point, you deserve to hear it. So let me bring you up to speed.
In the interest of space, I am putting these photos in thumbnail size. To see an enlarged version, click the photo.
20 Things We Have Accomplished (nor not accomplished) Since Closing On The Purchase Of Our 110 Acres:
- Located and documented our survey pins, marked our borders, posted no trespassing signs, and mapped the property using GPS points.
- Hiked the perimeter several times, found at least 9 ponds (we know of), a creek, a 5′ waterfall, and several beaver dams. Still, I have seen only about 30% of the property and Eddie has seen maybe 50%. We have much yet to explore.
- Sought out our township trustees, local foresters, sheriff, and local government officials. We learned who is responsible for security, emergency services, utilities, and land access/road maintenance (essentially, we are land locked – you cannot get to our land without trespassing on someone else’s – thank goodness the owner [Amy] likes us). For the most part … it is just us. We are so remote, we are pretty much on our own for all of it. This is a good thing if you want privacy, but bad thing if you ever need a search & rescue. So bad accidents are something we work very hard to avoid …. RIGHT, EDDIE? 😉
- Struggled every spring & summer to control the runoff on the main road — which is little more than an ATV trail. It is deeply rutted, very narrow, and the first 150 feet are at about a 30 degree uphill incline. Bought 10 tons of #2 gravel to help stabilize that area and fill the ruts, but now it is like we never touched it. Water drainage issues on the road have been at critical mass several times and all other work had to stop until we got it under control. Several drainage pipes have been installed and constantly need to be cleared. We CAN get both truck and trailer up that hill, but one of these days, we are inevitably going to get stuck.
- Sought out and got to know our neighbors (both the locals and the out-of-town cabin owners) and established good relationships with them. Made some really, really good friends and had some really good times! When we go down to the land and it is time to stop working for the day, we go play … and we play as hard as we work. So it is fun to have good friends close by to go play with (we hit the trails!) Kathy, Mary … your hubbies … Al, Amy, Jenny … ya’ll know who you are! We love you guys!
- Got involved with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Forestry Program earning ourselves a “Certified Forest” status. Additionally, I am always looking out for and cataloging (via digital photography) as many species of plants, insects, and animals as possible. If I determine we have anything that is endangered, I will pursue a Nature Preserve certification … or whatever it’s called. Also had our water tested through the county Soil & Water Conservation District and was TOLD that our water was tainted by coal mine runoff. Too much sulfur and no fish could live in our ponds.
- Established a large, permanent campsite and got it mowed down and under control. Not far from a water source (what we call the “Campsite Pond”), it is reasonably level and large enough for several tents, outbuildings, a large stack of firewood, some raised beds and fruit trees, a root cellar (behind the Campsite Pond), a tool shed, and someday, perhaps a Tiny House or cabin to hold us over until the real house is built. Much of this is yet to be built, but the site is ready and that is where we stay when we are down there to work.
- Started a compost pile.
- Repaired a damaged beaver dam that the beavers had abandoned and that was threatening to break and flood a section of the road. Eddie “made like a beaver” and fixed it. It has held now for over a year. Just buying time until we can figure out what to do about it.
- Built our first outhouse, behind the campsite, off into the woods. Little more than a tarped 6×6 frame with a small door way and hole in the ground over which a potty bench is situated, it has since been abandoned as an outhouse and is now used for storage. Why? Spiders. I refused to go in there once the spiders moved into it. A shame because Eddie put a lot of effort into building it.
- Brought two 300 gallon water tanks up the hill to the campsite. They are ready to be filled with rain water. We just need to set up the catchment system. Also purchased a ceramic water filter system in case we ever have to drink that rain water (or the Campsite Pond water).
- Attempted to hide a large, plastic tool shed off into the woods, but in spite of our efforts to hide our stuff, we have been hit by thieves ravaging our campsite at least four times. They have stolen everything of any value … tools, chainsaws, extension cords, utility wagons, rain gear. You name it, they stole it. Still looking for solutions so we can keep some of our stuff on site. You can see this shed in the background of the photo below of the trees we planted last spring (#14 – 2nd photo).
- Bought two generators, deep cell batteries, solar panels, inverters, etc. to provide for lighting and other electrical needs at the campsite. So, yes, I can use my iPad there!
- Planted trees, blueberries, and blackberries both on the land and at our house in the city (to be transplanted when they are big enough). Trees include pine, sugar maple, black walnut, black cherry, pecan, hickory, apple, and peach and some others. Lost track. Some lived, some didn’t. The hard clay & coal seams make it very hard for them to take root, which is why we are looking into cover crops to help break up the clay. Planting the first round of organic buckwheat and canola cover crops this fall just to get that soil in better shape.
- We bought a Jumping Jack Tent Trailer to replace our leaky tent, get us up off the ground at night, and make set up and take down a simple, 5 minute task that one person can do. We LOVE our JACK!
- Eddie designed and built a better potty solution this summer … complete with shower. We now use a Luggable Loo for a john and a battery operated shower pump. Handwashing station is in the kitchen tent. On the downside, we have to disassemble & reassemble “the bathroom” each time we go down to the land, but on the upside … NO SPIDERS. If there are any, I can at least see them against the white shower curtains even in the dark. Cannot do that with camo tarp. (In case you have not noticed, I am terribly arachnophobic.)
- Stocked the Campsite Pond with bass & catfish in spite of what we were told because I SAW FISH with my own eyes. Regular monitoring has revealed that the girl from the Soil & Water Conservation District who tested our water and said, “Fish cannot live here” was WRONG … oh yes, they can survive and they can thrive, thank you very much. Maybe the fish did not read her report? When purchased, the bass were not more than 1 1/2 inches (2 ½ years ago) and last check we have adults over 14″ and babies everywhere! Last catfish I caught was a good 10-12″. Tell me we can’t have fish! Watch this!
- Our ODNR foresters got us into a program to eradicate the Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven, a nasty invasive tree species) and for two years, we tried to kill it wherever we saw it. We were forced to give up. It was just too much for the two of us and turned out to be a losing battle with a lot of wasted time and money. Instead, we will just use them for firewood (they actually are not bad for that purpose).
- Bought a small trailer for hauling firewood out of the forest and an ATV to make accessing more remote areas possible and to be able run the trails and check up on things that would otherwise have been a two hour hike on foot.
- Cut in two new hiking/ATV trails and cleared MANY a fallen tree from the main path.
And all this was in addition to Eddie holding down a full time job, cutting 3-4 cords of firewood per winter, and taking care of the house, bills, and yard. He also went back to school and earned his associates in GIS (geographical information systems) to support our mapping efforts. I also went back to school and was a quarter shy of an associates in digital photography (which comes in very handy as a blogger) while working full time as a contract technical writer for 2.5 of the last 4 years AND running an organic city garden and putting up the harvest each fall. I have also taught myself to can, dehydrate, bake bread (with and without sourdough starter), use dry beans and rice, shop farm markets, (none of which I had EVER done before I met Eddie and none of which I could have done without my favorite bloggers) and of course, starting a blog …. well, can I take a nap? All this work-talk is making me tired.
In a subsequent post, I talk about our plans for the next year or so. So jump over there and see what is happening this year! Yes, there is a lot on our plate. Oh, and if you know of any low cost solutions to some of the issues we are facing, please do share them in the comments below. We would love to hear your suggestions!
What are your plans this year on your homestead?