Advise for New Homesteaders

Mar 11, 2012 · 9 mins read

The biggest drawback to countrysiders who want to farm these days is the price they have to pay for land. Thirty years ago farms were cheaper, but if you consider the wages in the south back then, the prices were actually high. A lot has changed in 30 years – higher employment, higher wages, higher inflation and farms are selling for higher prices than ever. Farmers cannot make it and they have learned the land is worth more than what they can raise brings on the market. This is why larger farms are being sold at absolute auctions and cut into acreage tracts.

This is where the little farmer comes in. Finally a small farmer can earn an income by growing truck crops and selling at road side stands or out of the back of a pick up truck. Go where the customer is – nearby cities. Raise those vegetables that “they” want. If you have the cash to buy a small farm, outfit it without going into debt, and have an income coming in from another source, you have it made. But for the guy who is in debt, he has to have a job off the farm. In his off time he can raise those things he needs for his family and sell the surplus for added income. I was raised on a farm; my parents were tenant farmers. They taught me plenty – how to live off the land, farm, fish and hunt. I can remember the Depression years. My parents stressed saving and buying only when you had the cash to buy with. This stuck with me all my life. Today you can’t live off the land like I could 50 years ago. There’re are too many people and not as much gain as there was then. The rivers and creeks were full of fish, turtles and frogs, as well as fur bearing animals, and the water was not polluted. All that has changed now. When I was 18, I heard tales of city living, good paying jobs and cars and I thought they were getting rich. After a stint in the military, getting married and a job in the city, I soon found out it took everything that both of us earned to make ends meet.

All you Countrysiders out there who are in your 40s and 50s and want a piece of heaven – meaning a small farm – and have the cash, I would certainly start looking then buy it and live on it and make preparations for your retirement years, which comes faster than you think. You need to choose the state and a county you want to live in. I chose a place with four seasons a year, lower property taxes and lower population. Contact the Jaycee’s or local a bank for a free county road map. Then contact realtors and absolute auction companies for listings of small farms.

I looked for a small farm but my wife located the one we presently own. I didn’t like it at first but the more I looked the better it proved to be and she liked it from the beginning. It’s been the best farm we’ve ever owned. It has everything we could ever want. Say you buy five acres and a farmhouse. To work a garden you need tools. If you grow a half acre, you can use small tools like a push lawn mower and a rear tined tiller to work up the soil after the grass and weeds are cut. Shortly after a rain, when the dirt is just becoming slightly dry, is the time to start tilling it. On the first pass set your tiller at two inches deep, the second pass at four inches deep, and the final pass at full depth.

Buy brand new tools. Buy two hoes – one for him, one for her. Get some two-foot long stakes, a roll of twine, a hammer and measuring tape. Mark your rows three feet apart. Pound your stakes in at each end, and place your string six inches from the top of the soil. Take your hoe and turn it on its side edge and make a furrow under the line from one to the other. Then plant seed, fertilize and lightly cover with soil, and repeat for the next row. I buy triple 19 fertilizer – it does not burn your plants. I take a handful and spread it lightly for three feet or so and repeat but not too heavily. You will be amazed what a half acre will raise. The lady of the house will have to know how to can what you grow. You’ll need a pressure canner, canning jars, lids and a lifter to take the hot jars out of the canner once they’re done. My wife puts her hot jars on a towel, covers them with another towel and leaves them overnight to seal before moving them.

If you own more acreage and plan to raise two acres or more of garden, you will need a small farm tractor. New ones are pricy but good used ones are available much cheaper, just be sure to pay a good mechanic to look it over before buying it. Instead of a plow, I prefer a tiller – it does the job on two passes and its run by the power-take-off on the tractor. It’s fast and easy. Buy a cultivator and the two “feet” that ride at the back of the tractor tires to loosen the soil where it has been driven over. These can be used to lay out your rows for planting. Try to find a good used International Harvester Cub farm tractor, a cultivator, disk plow, a side mounted sickle mower, and a tag along disk harrow. It shouldn’t cost over $3000. It’s the best small tractor ever built; ideal for the small farmer. I own one and also a big diesel tractor.

A person could raise two acres for truck crops, one acre of sweet corn and when the corn is one foot tall, plant pumpkins, squash or watermelons in the rows between the corn. I’ve planted this way and it produced well. The biggest sellers are tomatoes, okra, yellow crookneck squash, sweet corn and early green beans. Grow green and hot peppers, head lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, watermelons, cantaloupe, four long rows of Irish potatoes and four long rows of sweet potatoes. You will need a potato plow that is pulled behind your tractor. When the plow goes in the ground under the potatoes, it lays them on top of the soil for picking up. That is the time to “grade” them – from bakers on down. Baker’s are what most buyers want. Price them below what the stores sell them for.

When you’re “putting by” and canning, I’d can two years’ of produce – you never know if next year will bring a drought. Most old homes have crawl spaces dug under them for storing canned jars and taters, to keep them from freezing during cold winters. The foundation around the house has to be closed in to stop cold air from creeping under the house. The heat in the house keeps it nice under the house thereby keeping stuff stored there safe from freezing.

Gardening on a small scale for truck cropping on a bigger scale is not easy. It is hard work, but a lot depends on the tools and equipment you have to do all the work that is required. Remember: A garden requires constant care to keep weeds from taking over. Cultivation and hoeing are the keys. There are three people in my family and we can over 1000 quart jars of produce each year, but we usually have some left over for another and then only can what we need from there on. We have one large chest freezer for farm beef and we squeeze juice apples and put it into half gallon plastic jugs and freeze them. (In 2003 we froze 77 half gallons of juice.) Take out a jug, thaw and pour into glasses. It is better than pop and cheaper. Some apple orchards will sell you juice apples by the bushel for $7 or so.

When we first bought the place, we planted apple, peach, cherry, plum, pear and a fig tree. Yes, a fig tree, “turkey figs.” That tree is eight feet tall and full of green figs as I write this; others I’ve seen are just bushes. Now that we are old and retired they are all producing and they are a lot of help on the old food budget.

The greatest enjoyment on the farm is to sit on my front porch at night and listen to the sounds. Small mountains I call “knobs” surround our farm, and our home is located at the end of the farm for privacy. These knobs form a sanctuary and I feel their presence and can see their dim outline against the starry sky. Off in the distance I can hear the call of the whippoorwill, hear the spring water babbling over the rocks, the whispering of leaves in the breeze, chirping birds roosting in the treetops and the barking of a fox up on the top of the knob. I hear the sounds coming from a host of creatures that fly and crawl in the fields, knobs and hills at night. Everyone needs to stop and listen to these mighty sounds. It is very refreshing to me after a hard day’s work, a cool shower, a home grown and home cooked meal, and then I go out on my porch and sit on the swing to listen. I wish everyone could experience this.

On the farm you never starve or lack for anything. Think of that peace and privacy! In town you see the same thing everyday; on the farm life is renewed everyday. In the fall we gather black walnuts, get exercise and pick up nuts. We see squirrels scampering about from tree to tree and enjoy the different smells of the woods and the changing color of the leaves. I had a dozer make a one lane road through my big timber stand where we can walk or ride the tractor to enjoy the scenery. I love to walk with my hounds and sit on a stump while watching them trail some animal and to listen to the sound of their voices baying on the hunt. They never catch anything but it is fun to watch and hear. In the spring I enjoy the wild geese flying overhead. It is a welcome sight and signals the change in the season.