Follow along as we set up our new homestead. Before the very first post hole is dug, we needed to do some soul searching and make sure we're on the same page. We divided our planning process into steps, from making decision, through defining values, understanding our resources, crops, animals, marketing, long-term goals, and so on. If you’ve ever wanted to start your own farm or homestead, maybe this will help you through the process, too. There is no time-line for the actual work that needs to be done, but the steps will be covered in depth. Please sign up on the homepage of our website so you don’t miss a step!
Crops & Animals
Okay, we have our farm, we know what we want out of our farm life, everyone is on board with the vision, our finances and our support team members are in place. Now what? What are we going to grow/raise? Are we going to sell it? Most farms grow crops or animals or both, so we assume that’s what we're going to do. Nobody knows everything there is to know. Even a master gardener has a few things to learn about pigs, and a pig farmer could probably learn a thing or two about planting sunflowers. So, here’s a basic study list for what we need to know.
There are things we need to learn to grow healthy crops. It’s more than just dirt and water. Here are some ideas on where to look and how to start. Search Google, FB groups, farming podcasts, the library, Amazon books, and your local ag extension office.
***Speaking of ag extension, look them up online at “your-county agricultural extension office” and write down their contact info. They are invaluable to anyone working the land. They know the local soil, plants, flowers, they host classes on a wide variety of topics, and they have info on local animal and agricultural groups you can join, etc. List them as one of your supporters!***
Back to the study list for crops.
Soil – Have you had your soil tested? You should. There’s a whole science behind what to add to get the best results possible. Your ag extension can point you in the right direction.
Compost – Compost is easy. Green+Brown+H2O = Black Gold. Read up on it. You can worry-wart yourself to death over it, or you can dump it in a pile and let it do its thing. Either way is good.
Pest control – Nothing is more frustrating than finding your beautiful plants decimated by bugs. Are you looking to be chemical free? There are many ways to control pests, usually with other beneficial pests. Bird houses, bug hotels, are just a few ideas you can research.
Disease control – Spotty leaves, fungus, bacteria, the nightmares of every farmer. Don’t wait until after you see the damage to find out what it is. Know what to keep your eyes open for so you can stop it in its tracks the moment it rears its ugly head...and it will.
Basic calendar of seeding, planting, harvesting – This seems so logical, but what planting zone are you in? When is your last frost date? How about your first? When do you have to start your seeds to have time to transplant them into larger containers and harden them off before placing them in your garden? What in the world is "hardening off" anyway? How do you know when your veggies are ripe and ready for harvesting?
Post-harvest planning – What are you going to do with 260 onions? Do you need a cooler to keep veggies fresh before taking them to the farm market? Do you have freezer space and canning jars to keep your family fed all winter? How about a dehydrator?
Keeping records – I think this is the most important knowledge to have. What tomatoes did we plant last year that did so well? You think you’ll remember, but you won’t. Write it down! What date did you start the seeds? What was the germination rate? How much room did the plants take up in your garden? What was the yield? Did you sell them? If so, how much money did you make? Was it worth it? Should you plant four times as much next year or move on to something else that will serve you better?
My advice is to start with one type of crop at a time. What does your family eat? Does your family eat tomatoes? Yes? How many cans of dices tomatoes do you go through each year for your favorite recipes? One per week? That's 52 quarts of tomatoes you need to can to last you a year. How many tomatoes fit into a quart jar? The answer is about 5 large which are about a pound a piece. How many pounds do you get from one Beefsteak tomato plant? The answer is about 15 pounds. Basic math means you need one plant for every three quarts you want to can - or - about 17 plants to get a whole year's worth. Now that you know what you need your harvest to be, let's back up to planting. When can you put them in the ground? My planting date is about April 15. So, back up from your date two weeks (hardening off time) and another month for transplanting and another month for sowing the seeds. In my world, I plant seeds in February in the greenhouse, transplant them into bigger containers in March, and harden them off for two weeks as soon as the weather is warm. If you don't have a greenhouse, use your laundry room or your basement. Just get some grow-lights and keep them warm and watered. If all goes well in my world, I get the tomatoes in the garden about April 15. The harvest time for Beefsteaks is between 65 and 90 days so, I start picking them the end of June and continue through most of August. I only can 6 quarts at a time, so it's pretty much every weekend! See why you need to keep records? Who's going to remember all that by next year!
Learning about animals is important! They are dependent on you for everything – food, water, shelter, health, life. Here's The Number One Rule That Everyone Breaks: Do NOT get animals before you’re ready for them. Have your shelters and feed/water systems prepared in advance! Even your chick brooder should be warm before bringing your chicks home. Also, study up on the following:
Basic anatomy – Culling your first batch of meat birds will teach you a lot about basic bird anatomy, but you should really know a little bit before you look inside. What are crops? Do goats have multiple stomachs? Do wool sheep really need to be sheared? What's with trimming hooves?
Feed and shelter requirements – It’s only fair to the animals in your care that you understand what they need to eat, what minerals need to be supplemented, and how they need to be sheltered. This information will help you avoid illnesses and predator deaths. I'll note here that turkeys are the dumbest animal on the planet and need to be protected from themselves. They will drown in a puddle if not fenced in!
Health problems, treatments, and prevention – Bumble Foot, Sour Crop, Hay Belly, Mites, Fleas, Etc. Don't let these health problems scare you away from having animals, but take time to learn about signs, treatments, and more importantly, prevention. Begin gathering an animal first aid kit so you have treatments when you need them. You can pick up most things at your local co-op, at Tractor Supply, or on Amazon. Find a livestock vet who will tend to your animals. Post his/her number on your fridge. There's nothing scarier than having a sick and perhaps dying animal, and in the stress of the moment, not knowing who to call.
Managing pastures – The 1970’s farms with muddy paddocks are a thing of the past. Look into multi-species pasture management. Rotating your animals is just as important as rotating your crops and can be done with temporary fencing. Goats eat the tall weeds, pigs eat the roots, chickens perform pest management while scratching manure into the ground for fertilizer. All animals have their specialty. Let them do what they do. Just move them around so they do it for you!
Harvesting for sale – Check your county regulations for selling requirements. Many farm markets won’t let you sell eggs if they’re not washed and refrigerated. Most counties won’t let you sell meat if it’s not processed and packaged in a USDA-licensed processing plant. Do your homework before selling anything.
Keep records - Notice I put “keep records” on both lists. This is probably the most critical step in running your farm business. You will discover things like you made a ton of money on lettuce this year, which may change your garden planning for next year. You may find selling meat is far too expensive with all the regulations, but selling live animals is much more cost effective. You simply drop off the animal at the butcher for the buyer. You won’t know these things if you don’t keep meticulous records.
Wherever your passion lies, wherever you'd like to start, begin investigating it. Write everything down. Put a plan in place to grow/buy/hatch/plant what you want on your farm. One thing at a time! Let's do this!
Check out this cute farm planner and these new-fangled Gro-Lights!
Join us next time when we’ll talk about how to sell all this stuff in Marketing.