The Homestead

The homestead consists of the land, buildings, infrastructure, plants, animals–everything but the residents.

This entry illustrates how we’ve done a functional decomposition of the homestead to facilitate deliberate planning. In future entries the results of the planning for each component will be discussed.

Landscaping

Landscaping is the process of tailoring the land to its intended function. Landscaping includes artistic as well functional attributes. Landscaping works with the palette nature has provided. The intent is to discover how to most pleasingly place the non-native elements (roads, buildings, etc.) in the context of the native environment while preserving and protecting the natural environment.

Fencing

The property will be perimeter fenced with barbed wire. We will use portable electric fencing to define grazing areas.

Windbreaks

We will use windbreaks to shelter houses, barns, and livestock from winter winds. We will also place deciduous shade trees in pastures. We will use only native, naturally hardy species for all plantings.

The first windbreak will be installed in an arc running west and north of the home site for the main house. We have ordered 300 seedlings–100 red oak, 100 white pine, and 100 deciduous holly–for delivery in spring of 2017.

Pasture Restoration

Our pastures are beautiful, lush, and bounteous. The provide impressive yields of forage for livestock. However, the pastures also suffer from a number of shortcomings. The cultivated pastures consist exclusively of a single variety of non-native, cold-weather grass. While the pastures are currently prolific, the nutrient balance cannot be maintained without the application of fertilizers.

It is our intent to slowly restore our pastures to prairies of native, drought-tolerant, warm-weather perennial plants. This effort will require slow, steady effort and the process will take at least a generation to complete.

While native prairies have a lower grazing capacity than intensively cultivated cold-weather grasses, the native plants enhance the fecundity of the soil, provide cover for wildlife, and add resilience through diversity.

Since we intend to raise livestock to meet our own needs rather than as a commodity, we believe we can afford lower grazing capacity.

Water

We will manage water resources from collection to disposal.We will collect and store water when it is plentiful for use when it is scarce. We will reuse gray water.

Current projections suggest that while total annual rainfall will remain largely unchanged through the 21st century, the patterns of precipitation will change substantially with less snow and with a combined decrease in frequency of rain and increase in rainfall during each precipitation event. Two foreseeable consequences of this emerging pattern will be alternating periods of heavy rain (with possible flooding, erosion, and groundwater contamination from runoff) followed by periods of relative drought (reducing water availability from wells and requiring substantial water storage for livestock and irrigation).

Wells

Our primary source of potable water will be one or more wells. Uses of potable water will be limited to

  • Drinking
  • Cooking
  • Bathing
  • Dishwashing
  • Laundry

Rainwater Collection

We will collect rainwater runoff from building roofs. We will treat the water using Slow Sand Filtration (SSF). We will use treated rainwater runoff for

  • Garden and greenhouse irrigation
  • Utility sinks
  • Livestock
  • Washing vehicles and equipment

Waste Treatment

We will build safe and secure black water treatment facilities that will protect groundwater from contamination from pathogens. We will treat black water with FOG (fats, oils, and grease) separation, septic tanks, and waste stabilization lagoons.

We will also capture gray water from bathing and laundry and, after treatment, reuse the water for flushing toilets and irrigation.

Energy

We will use renewable sources of energy to the greatest extent possible consistent with sound economic principles.

Electricity

We will obtain and maintain a connection to the electric grid to provide a reliable source of electricity when renewable sources are inadequate and to allow us to deliver excess energy to the grid when circumstances permit.

Solar Photovoltaics

We will build our solar PV capacity incrementally to take advantage of increases in efficiency and decreasing cost.

Wind Energy

We will harvest wind energy if it is economically viable. Wind has the potential to act as a “gap filler” when there is inadequate sunshine. However, wind turbines are significantly more expensive than solar photovoltaic systems of the same capacity. It may be the case that a combination of increased solar PV capacity and electrical storage will be more cost-effective than a wind turbine.

Natural Gas

We intend to use natural gas for cooking. This is an example of achieving “reasonable” self-sufficiency. Gas offers tremendous advantages of convenience, cleanliness, efficiency, and consistency that cannot be matched by electricity or wood.

Solar Hot Water

We will collect and store heat energy in water for heating residences and green houses.

Wood

Wood is an abundant and renewable resource and a potential source of energy for heating. However, it does produce greenhouse emissions when burned, so we intend to reserve the use of wood as an energy source for emergencies.

Plants and Animals

It is our intent to be as self-sufficient as possible with respect to food. Specifically, we would like to provide meat, dairy, fruits, and vegetables for our own needs. We will store a portion of what we produce and barter, sell, or donate anything in excess of our needs.

Agriculture

We will have both a greenhouse and a garden. The greenhouse will provide a nursery for seedlings while there is still a danger of frost and a controlled environment for plants requiring it. The garden will provide for as many of our vegetable needs as time and labor permit. We do not intend to grow our own grains; however, we are not averse to allowing ourselves the pleasure of a little sweet corn!

Horticulture

We will engage in growing fruit from trees and bushes. We will limit ourselves to varieties that are either native to the area or that are known to do well.

We intend to cultivate at least the following

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Pecans
  • Blackberries

Viniculture

We will consider cultivating grapes.

Bee Keeping

We will build and manage an apiary.

Dairy Cows

We will keep dairy cows sufficient to satisfy our needs.

Beef Cattle

We will raise beef cattle for beef for our own consumption.

Swine

We will raise pigs sufficient for our own needs.

Laying Hens

We will keep laying hens.

Fryers

We will raise chickens for meat.

Sheep

We will consider raising sheep for wool and meat.

Game

We are willing to learn how to manage the wildlife on our property, including hunting game for our own food and to maintain healthy populations of deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, and quail.

Aquaponics

We will consider investing in aquaponics on a small scale with the option to ramp up production if results warrant.

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Fish are raised in a tank. Waste from the fish is treated by beneficial bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrites and nitrites to nitrates. The treated water is pumped into beds of vegetables which absorb the nitrates and oxygenate the water. The oxygenated water is returned to the fish tank. Fish and vegetables are harvested as food.

Aquaponics is extremely conservative of water; water losses are limited to evaporation and transpiration.

 Business Opportunities

We are willing to engage in commerce to defray the costs of establishing and maintaining the homestead. Ideas we have already considered include agroecological tourism, Christmas tree farming, and hosting weddings and other events.

To consider investing in a business venture, we must demonstrate that the business

  • Does not violate the principles upon which the homestead is founded
  • Does not constitute an unacceptable intrusion on the privacy of the residents
  • Does not interfere with essential homestead operations
  • Does not require an investment that threatens the financial viability of the homestead
  • Has a sponsor that assumes primary responsibility for making the venture successful in both the short run and the long run
  • Using conservative projections, is much more likely than not to
    • Achieve profitability in at most 3 years
    • Maintain profitability over a reasonable time horizon
    • Recoup any up-front investment in at most 5 years

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