Thursday, 15 February 2018

Choosing our Homestead and 5 Years of Preparation

At the start of 2012 when we decided that we would move back to New Zealand from Australia we started scouring the internet for land.  As I mentioned in my last couple of posts the geographic region that we chose to homestead in was one where we were within a 30 minute drive from family, but also major centres of employment as we are not close to retirement age or in a financial situation where we could retire early.  We wanted enough land to be fairly self sufficient without it being a full time job straight away so we looked for land between 5 and 15 acres in size.

We were definitely working with a budget in mind, as at the time we also had a mortgage on our homestead in Australia, and we knew we wanted to build a new house so we looked at bare land.  We spent a number of months just looking online at the properties that came up for sale, the ones that remained for sale and the ones that sold quickly.  The region we were looking in was fortunately one of the cheapest areas of the North Island.  Once we had seen a few that meet our requirements we travelled from Australia to look in person.

When visiting potential sites we took a number of things with us: 

A spade to check soil type, water logging, topsoil depth and visual biology.  We want to be able to grow a lot of fruit and vegetable and raise animals for meat so knowing if you a looking at a property with good soil or poor soil gives you an idea of how much work might be required before you achieve this goal.  Soil can be improved but it takes time and effort, so knowing what you are dealing with from the beginning might help you make a decision.

A camera to take photos in all directions from the centre of the property and you will never remember what can be seen in every direction and when you look back at photos you might see things you hadn't noticed.

A 50 m tape measure to measure distance from power and water supply to potential house sites.  We did not need to worry about water as it was always planned that we would have water tanks installed.

A note book to record findings and note things like access to adjoining properties, quality of boundary fencing and physical sensations like smell,wind and noise.  

Some properties you will rule out quickly but in others you might see potential.  It is quite important to spend some time standing quietly on potential properties each time you visit (which should be at different times of the day) and listen to the noises around you.  How much traffic noise is there?  Is there manufacturing going on nearby? Are the neighbours dogs barking continuously?  Can you see and hear the neighbours?  These are things easily over looked that might infringe on your imagined lifestyle.


Looking south from our North West corner

Looking East from our North West corner

Hubby with measuring tape in hand


We finally found a property that suited many of our needs and was within our budget.  The location was good, the size (5.5 acres) was good, the houses around us were newish (built in the last 10 years) which can help improve the value of the area, it was down a country road, mostly flat with a very slight slope and tree-less (which can can be both positive - blank canvas to work with, and negative - the cost of trees).
The soil was way better than what we had in Australia and pretty good on New Zealand standards with at least 30cm of topsoil.  The property had been used for growing maize then re grassed so we knew this meant chemical fertilisers had been used and likely herbicides (although soil tests would give us more information), however we also knew we would not be relocating for a few years and the land would therefore be able to heal itself.  It has now bee more than 5 years which means we could start the process of applying for organic certification but we are not sure if we will go down this path yet.

Once we owned the property we started preparing for our eventual move by planting a windbreak on our western boundary.  We get very Strong winds from this direction and sometimes salt spray blows in from the ocean even though it is more than 10 km away but as you can see in the photos below trees in the area can attest to the power of the wind.




 We mowed a 4m wide strip and fenced it off.  Then the planting began.



We planted about 100 trees the first trip back to New Zealand, all self seeded natives that my mum propagated for us.  And after planting all the trees out we went on to fill those same pots with more seedlings.


Every time we visited New Zealand which was about every 6 months we would plant more trees, replace any that didn't survive and propagate new ones.  Slowly but surely we planted out our entire 200m boundary.



Getting the windbreak established was a priority and 5 years on the trees are mostly growing well and about 1.5 metres tall.



As you can see from the above photo we did more than just plant trees in 5 years we also built a shed and undertook a range of other activities but more about that later.  
The way we are designing our property is based on my permaculture knowledge.  I don't claim to be an expert and it is something I continue to learn about and practise, but I try to make decisions based on what I have learnt about permaculture.
The main thing that the 5 years allowed us to do was to get to know our property through observation (number 1 of the permaculture principlesand in a way it forced to take thing slowly making small changes over time which is permaculture principle number 9.
During this time there were many times we wanted to push forward and do things. But living in another country meant we couldn't, which at the time was frustrating as we are both doers and like to be busy.  
As we move forward now the time we have had to observe and think things through I am sure will be a blessing because we are now at the point of making big decisions and putting permanent things like our new house in place which obviously cannot be undone.

I am trying to move past the fear that there are things I haven't considered that will create problems down the line. I am not going to become paralysed by it because I think there is a risk of doing nothing for the fear of getting it wrong, and I keep reminding myself that nothing is a problem just an opportunity to be creative with a solution. 

Have you ever had that feeling when undertaking a project?
Have you ever built a new house or started from scratch somewhere new?
What are your tips for keeping up the forward momentum?


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Choosing Land For Homesteading

Everyone will have a different set of criteria for the land they buy to homestead on.  Some people will be like us and want to start from scratch, others will want something that has some bones to build on or maybe even a more complete picture that they can make minor adjustments too.

The one thing that almost everyone will have in common is that they will have a budget to work with.  This provides a starting point.  Additionally you may also have a geographic area that would like to live in to maintain connections to family and friends, however sometimes your budget or current location will mean you need to move away from your desired location to homestead how you would like.  

Knowing what you want or might want from your homestead will help you make good choices when it comes to finding a property to rent or buy.  It really helps to write this all down and have the rest of the family write down their thoughts as well so you can see what everyone is thinking.  
Don't limit yourself to what you think is possible in 5 years but instead list all the things you think you might want to have a go at in the next 20.  
While listing the physical aspects of the homestead such as soil type, land contours, existing vegetation, room to keep animals etc is important, make sure you also list how you want your life to feel, the connections you hope to create and the benefits you hope to gain.  Things such as having good relationships with neighbours, being able to enjoy the work you do on your homestead, having time to pursue you interests, harvesting your own rain water, growing nutrient dense food or linking up with like minded people are also what helps to create balance.  Once you include all of these things you will be able to develop a better picture of what you are looking for.  



After developing your list each person can then divide the list further into three different categories, deal breakers, important aspects or nice to have items.  It can be helpful to do this individually so that everyone feels that they are not being persuaded to another's point of view, then re group to discuss and see where compromises can be made and what items were agreed.

Some of the factors that influenced our decision:


Having previously lived in the middle of the suburbs, and then on a small parcel of land in the country in a old house where a lot of work was required on both the land and house to deal with problems created by previous owners, we knew that this time we wanted to start from scratch.  
That move also involved relocating to a community where we knew nobody and we experienced first hand how long it takes to make friends and build up a support network, so this time we also wanted to live within 30 minutes of my parents and a cousin who I am very close to.  This would mean no other family or school friends lived nearby therefore we knew we would be building new friendships and connections which we were happy to do.  
Being in our thirties when we purchased we also wanted to have access to work opportunities, schooling in case a child came along, opportunities for involvement in community activities.  We also intended on this being a long term set up which makes sense if you are going to start from scratch. 
We did not intend for our land to be our sole source of income however we know that we have sufficient land to pursue a range of activities should we decide to earn a living from our land.

What we started with in New Zealand - A big vacant paddock nothing but grass

Below are a range of factors that you might want to consider when buying/choosing land to Homestead on.

Access

If you are only renting the property haw long can you have it for?  If you are not guaranteed a long term agreement this will shape the improvements you make and the financial investment involved and relocatable infrastructure may be the way to go.  
If you are buying what access to you have to the property itself?  Is the access seasonal? What access do you have to utilities?  Do you want to be connected to the grid or go off grid?  Can you get cell phone coverage?  If you move from suburbia to the country you may be unaware that there are still many places that do not have cell phone coverage and fast internet access even when they don't seem to be in a remote location.  We lived 100 km from a city of 2.2 million people with many smaller cities and towns much closer and we had no cell phone coverage.  We did have fast internet but not all of our neighbours did as there were only a limited number of fast connections available in our area.

Income

Do you need to earn a living from the land or will you work off farm?  How will you finance the setting up of your homestead?

Size

The amount of land you need to achieve your homesteading goals will be determined by those goals and you may need to do some research to help you make a decision.  
If you only want to grow fruit and vegetables and perhaps have some chickens or rabbits then a large plot of land in a town or city may be all you need.  But if you want to have a sheep, goat or cow for milk or meat then you will need consider the needs of these animals as none of them are solitary creatures so will need at least one other for company.  
The size of the land required to support these activities will then be determined by the quality of the land itself or the carrying capacity (how many adult animals can the land support without bringing in supplementary feed).  If you plan on having livestock do not underestimate the importance of this.  Buying in feed can be expensive and could derail your homesteading dreams unless you have very deep pockets, in which case it would be better to spend that money on better land that you have control over in the first place.

Age, Physical Strength and Stamina

At the time we purchased we were both in our thirties so we knew we had the physical strength, stamina and the time ahead of us to set up a homestead from scratch.  If you are older or have any physical limitations then you should factor this in to your decision making.

Location and Personal Connections

What is the climate like?  What sort of soil is it and what do you see growing in the area?  What has the land been used for in the past?  Our land had been farmland that had primarily been used for cropping and had therefore had synthetic fertiliser use.  We got soil tests done before buying and had this written into our contract so that if we were unhappy with the results we could pull out of the sale without penalty. How far from other people do you want to live?  It might seem romantic to live in the wilderness but be honest about the type of person you are and how much social interaction you like to have.

Aspect

If you plan on producing food on your land you need to consider the aspect, potential shading from trees on both your potential property and the neighbouring ones.

Community

Do you like to belong to sports clubs or community groups?  Where do you prefer to shop?  Do you need regular access to medical facilities or specialist services?  Are you likely to find like minded people living nearby?  Visit the towns nearby and talk to the locals.  Find out what community groups already exist and the facilities you will have access to.

Restrictions

Land is subject to council by-laws and some developments and subdivisions will have covenants dictating the types of activities that can be undertaken or what is restricted, the type of house that can be built and in some cases even the colours you can use.  Speak to the local council about the land zoning and future plans for the surrounding area.  What may currently be farmland on the outskirts of town my be destined for subdivision into housing estates, commercial or industrial use, or be ear marked as a rail or power corridor.  The time spent investigating these things could prevent your dream from being squashed or severely altered.

Finally identify anything that you know you do not want.  Sometimes this will help you go back through your list of things you do want and see if there are any clashes.  For example, if you think want to keep livestock but don't want to give up your annual month long holiday at the beach each summer you will need to come up with a plan to manage your absence or reconsider your want to keep animals.  Not doing enough research can be costly in time, money and emotional well being so a bit of time spent before committing will always be well spent.

What other suggestions do you have for someone looking to start out homesteading?




Friday, 26 January 2018

Homesteading vs Lifestyle Block or Hobby Farm

Our farm is 5.5 acres or 2.17 hectares in size and when we purchased it in 2012 it was one big grassy paddock of almost flat land with a dip in one area towards a pond in our neighbours land.  We are 6 km from two small regional towns Bulls and Marton, 20 - 30 minutes from two small regional cities Whanganui and Palmerston North and 2.5 hrs from Wellington the capital.



In  New Zealand land the size of ours is termed a lifestyle block as people generally choose to have a bit of land to keep a few animals, enjoy having a bit of space for their family and pets but tend to work elsewhere and not earn anything from their land. 

Wikipedia provides the following definition for a lifestyle block:

A hobby farm (also called a lifestyle block in New Zealand) is a smallholding or small farm that is maintained without expectation of being a primary source of income. Some are merely to provide some recreational land, and perhaps a few horses for the family's children.

Moving to a lifestyle property can be rewarding and provide plenty of opportunities to learn new things, in fact for many people, they will have no choice but to learn a huge range of skills. 

These may include animal husbandry, small machinery use (think chain saws, weed whackers/line trimmers, ride on lawn mowers, rotary hoes and tractors), towing and backing trailers and horse floats, fencing, tree pruning, managing your own water and sewage systems and lots lots more.  Every skill that you don't have will be one you have to to pay or barter for or find a mentor to teach you.   For some people the acquisition of these skills, the new opportunities and the new community of people around them leads to a feeling of fulfilment.  However some people have a romantic vision of living in the country and are unaware of the time and work required to maintain a lifestyle property (it takes a lot longer to mow an acre of lawn, move the cows, shear the sheep, and clean out the chicken pen than to sweep the front porch of a townhouse and clean out the budgie cage) which can become a burden that interferes with other hobbies and activities.

Homesteading on the other hand is more about self sufficiency and may or may not involve making a living from your land and Wikipedia defines it as:

Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is characterised by subsistence agriculture, home preservation of food, and it may or may not also involve the small scale production of textiles, clothing, and craft work for household use or sale.


Homesteading is a term that might conjure up images of people living an agrarian lifestyle toiling away to eek out a life from a parcel of land in the country and for some people this is still the case, but there are of plenty of variations on the theme of homesteading and you don't even have to live in the country or have a lot of land.  Modern homesteading is a mindset of doing as much for yourself as you can, acquiring practical skills and shortening your supply chains.  It is about being responsible for you own well being and living a life that allows you do more for your self and others reducing your dependence on the consumer society. 

You might learn to make soap or cheese, spin wool and knit, grow your own food and learn to preserve it, learn to forage and collect wild edibles or medicinal plants, grow willow and take up weaving, learn to hunt or raise livestock for personal consumption, you might live in town so start a community garden or find some land to share, or you might go completely off grid, move into the wilderness and fend for yourself.



Having land in the country is not a pre-requisite for homesteading and it is always better to start where you live now.  Skills take time to acquire and when you are not also having to manage a larger parcel of land you have the time to dedicate to learning new things.

I was fortunate to grow up in the country on 10 acres of land where my parents built on bare land and started from scratch.  We raised most of our meat, grew fruit and vegetables which we preserved, had bees, gathered our own firewood, cooked all our food from scratch, had pets and a house cow.  My dad is an engineer from a farming background and my mums a nurse from town.  Between them they had quite a few skills but they still had a lot to learn along the way.  We are a bit like my parents with Randall being born and bred in a city while I grew up in the country.  We first started our homesteading journey when we lived in a 2 bedroom town house 3km from the CBD of Brisbane Australia.  We grew citrus in a pot, planted a vegetable garden that we watered with grey water, collected and propagated plants, built a pond, started composting, shopped at the produce market and preserved what we grew and brought and cooked from scratch.  At the same time we worked hard and saved as much money as we could so that we could move to the country.


We were able to purchase a rundown old farmhouse on 3.5 acres in the Queensland countryside and set about expanding our skills further to include managing our own water and septic systems, caring for chickens and cows, fencing, soap and cheese making, dehydrating, fermentation, permaculture and much much more.


Home made soap
We have now moved to New Zealand to a slightly larger parcel of land but it has good soil, regular rainfall and a temperate climate so will be incredibly productive compared to our land in Australia.  But this time we are starting from scratch.  What was once a big grassy paddock is gradually taking shape and becoming a rural homestead.  We will use the skills we have to do what we can and work of learning new skills a long the way.  It's not a race as rushing in can be expensive.  We want to live closer to nature, making the most of each season doing as much as we can for ourselves, learning new skills, meeting like minded people and reducing our reliance on the system.  

For us this is definitely not a hobby farm, and while it is about a lifestyle what we are aiming to achieve is much more about providing for ourselves, doing it for ourselves and being as self sufficient as we can and perhaps in the future even making a living from our land.

So come along for the ride as we set up our homestead from scratch, learn from our mistakes as no double there will be many, have a go yourself where ever you live and challenge your self to try something new.  Our homesteading journey in underway and hopefully we can provide you with the inspiration to give it a go no matter where you live.





Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2017 - July - December

The second half of 2017 was filled with a range of activities that supported the development of our amazing little boy, took steps towards our future, worked towards the development of our new property and developed new connections.  However there was a big low point which came out of the blue and left us in a state of shock for a few months, the death of my Nan.

Now for someone who is nearly 40 I realise that loosing a grandparent is to be expected especially when she was 87, but my Nan seemed like she had at least another 5 + years in her and had only stopped skiing in 4 years ago.  Her death was also as a result of an accident.  She had gone into hospital for a routine operation and had come through successfully.  But the night following her operation dosed up on pain medication she tried to get out of bed (which had the sides up) slipped and fell hitting her head and causing a bleed on the brain.  Because of the anticoagulants the bleed put her into a vegetative state but sadly stopped before she passed away.  So because she had a do not resuscitate order we then had to wait for her body to shut down and for her to pass away, no IV fluids (as this would have just kept her alive) just pain meds.  Our family travelled from all over the country to be by her side and after 5 days of our bedside vigil she passed on.  The funeral followed and over the following few months so did the selling of the family home and moving my Pop into a nursing home.  It was a tough few months and not a day goes by that I don't miss her.  I am extremely grateful that we moved back when we did so that she could meet Kingsley and I could share some more moments with her.



But life has also provided many opportunities for us to grow and learn and enjoy each other.

I have joined in at our local community garden which is organically run along permaculture principles.  It has been great to meet like minded people as one of the concerns I had when we moved was the opportunity to meet people with similar values in quite a traditional small rural community.  Kingsley and I go every Friday for coffee morning where he digs in the dirt and enjoys green smoothies and picks himself strawberries.  Kingsley a a sociable little bunny and shares his hugs and kisses around adopting new nanna's and poppa's wherever he goes.


Green smoothies .... mmmmmm.

The original windbreak we have been planting for the past few years is doing ok, we have lost a few plants due to water logging and some to salt spray (even though we are kms from the coast) but we still have plenty of survivors and once we plant some giant flax  down the road side of our planting strip that will suck up a lot of ground water and create a thick buffer for wind.


During the year we also planted out a row of trees that will form the base of our orchard windbreak.  We are using all natives that we have grown from seed to keep costs down as purchasing the potting mix is cheaper than buying the plants.


My cousin and her kids helped out on planting day with the kids pushing the wheelbarrow, picking up pots and entertaining Kingsley in his makeshift playpen made up of possessions we haven't unpacked and have stored at the farm.


Makeshift playpen set up by the roller door so he could see out
We have since been back and added more plants to this row and the reality is that we will be planting a lot more over the next 5 years just for shelter and shade for us and our animals.
Kingsley is a really busy kid, which is not surprising since he has a very busy mother who is pretty task orientated.  He is happiest outdoors which is great most of the time but sometimes results in tears when he gets brought back indoors.  We have also learned not to put any footwear on him until the last minute as he associates this with going outside and heaven help us if we are not ready to go yet.



We are getting to spend lots of time with my parents and they love having a grandchild who they see a few times a week.  They have 5 acres so this also provides lots more opportunities to be out doors, visit the animals at their place and in the neighbourhood and to help Poppa do jobs.





Kingsley my not be getting another sibling but he has an incredible bond with Jessie our dog.  Jessie was one of the first words he said and he starts asking for he as soon as he gets up each day.  Lucky she is only 7 so should be around for a while yet.



We think he will make a good farmer as he loves animals.





The weather has been brilliant since the start of November with lots of sunshine and just a little rain.  Brilliant for being out doors but a little dry for many farmers.  Kingsley's older cousins treat him like a bit of a toy and fight over him but I am sure the novelty will wear off when he gets a bit bigger and starts getting into their "precious" things.




All year I have had one big splurge to look forward to and that was Cat Steven in concert.  I went with my mums brother and mum and dad and it was amazing.  It was held in an outdoor venue and packed with nearly 20,000 fans all enjoying the great weather and great music.  We got there early and got an awesome seat along the top of a wall so we had an uninterrupted view.



This year my family hired some holiday homes at a beach for 3 nights over Christmas.  It is a spot we have all holidayed before as there is good fishing minimal people and sheltered spots for the kids to play in the sand even if the weather is not great.  This was Kingsley's first trip to the beach and he loved it, especially breaking the sandcastles people built for him.



We followed up our 3 days at the holiday house with my parents and one of my brothers and his family with 3 nights camping at a different beach.  This was with my Aunt (mums identical twin), uncle and my cousin (who is like my sister) and her family.  We all grew up very close and still see a lot of them so to Kingsley this is just another Nanna and Poppa.  We did lots of bike riding, more fishing and playing in the sand.


We wrapped up the year quietly and then launched our selves into the new year (more about that another day).
We have also continued to make the most of the good weather with a trip to a local river for a dip when my brother, his wife and girls came to visit.



This year is going to be a big one for us with our friends Liz and Pete from Queensland visiting in February, our new house build will start in April, I have a trip to Melbourne in April, I am studying full time at Uni, my best friend is visiting in the middle of the year for my big 40, a couple of camping trips are already planned and I am sure there will be lots more happening too.

I am sure there are things I have missed but that is a brief look at the last 6 months.  Really glad you stuck around I have missed this space.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Happy New Year

Yes I am still here.  So much has been happening here already this year and over the past 6 months since I last posted.

Our little baby is now a happy little boy who is busy busy busy.  At 15 months he runs he jumps he climbs he throws the dogs ball for her and walks her on a lead.  That's what happens when you walk at 10 months old.


I have lots to tell you all if you are still there and care to tune in.  I am also working on updating my blog so hopefully I will get that done over the next month and a half before heading back to university.
Life has not allowed a lot of time for reading blogs so I am well out of touch with what most of you have been up to over the past 12 months so feel free to tell me about the big moments of your pasty 12 months in the comments section.