Welcome back! Continuing on from yesterday’s discussion, I asked numerous questions and suggested ascertaining all the different attributes of your property and mapping them out. Now let’s start to lay out your homestead plan using that information.
Laying Out the Elements of Your Homestead
If at all possible, I would situate the house so that the living areas face south. Why? Admitting natural light to the living room, dining area and kitchen makes for a brighter home, helps combat SAD(season affect disorder) and may mean needing artificial light for fewer hours in the day, a plus for any off-grid home. Having large picture windows that face south guarantee all of the above. Two other positives, in winter you will gain much heat from solar radiation on sunny days and come spring, you will have full sunny window sills for your garden seedlings. At the Maine homestead, the living room picture window faced west. The house was rather dark even on sunny days and our garden seedlings weren’t the best. Here at the wilderness homestead, we have 2 big picture window that face south. The difference in the brightness of the living spaces is dramatic as is the quality of my seedlings.
Once you’ve determined the location of your house, placement of other items becomes a little easier. If either garden or orchard are far removed from the house, they are out of sight and out of mind, and you will likely not take care of them as well as you need to for good results. Therefore, I would definitely try to locate both of these, but especially the garden as close to the house as possible since you should be visiting it daily.
Any garden, orchard, hay field or field in which crops will be planted will need to have a sunny, well drained site with good soil. I would suggest the best soil site for the garden since that will provide the bulk of the family’s food.
With the orchard relatively close to the house, you can keep an eye out for bug infestations and spray accordingly. Ideally the orchard site should be protected from winds on the north and west sides, avoid frost pockets(remember cold air sinks) and most importantly be well drained. I learned that the hard way. My Maine orchard was in a wet spot and in spring, was often flooded. Shallow rooted berry plants didn’t suffer much but my trees did. Most of them died from drowning.
If at all possible, avoid an orientation that requires plowing or tilling up and down a hillside. The flatter the spot the better. The steeper the hill side, the more problems. If you can’t avoid such an orientation, till or plow across the hill to minimize the risk of soil erosion, washouts and crop failures due to downpours.
If you wish to have a wind turbine, you will need to site it in an area that is ideally well above tree top or other obstructions. Figure at a minimum, the bottom tips of the turbine blades should be 30 feet above the tallest obstructions that are within 500 feet of it in all directions. Higher is better.
Solar panels will require a south facing, shade free area throughout the day. You would be amazed how much a tree or other shadow adversely affects solar charging.
Likewise, a greenhouse will need to be south facing. As with the garden and orchard, try to place this near the house for convenience. Proximity to a water source is a consideration too since you will have to water the plantings periodically.
If you are going to rely on a spring house for refrigeration, you’ll want to have that somewhat handy to the house. If you plan to store food in a root cellar, will it be under the house or will it be a separate entity outside? If you have a hill to burrow into, that would be a good spot for an outside cellar. A cellar under the house is certainly more convenient than an outside cellar, but only if the ground is suitable to put a cellar under the house. If your water table is high, an under the house basement type cellar may not be the best choice due to flooding.
Depending on your desire for animals, give consideration to the location of the barn in relation to the house. You will be making many daily trips to the barn so you want it located close enough for easy access. You will be collecting eggs, feeding the animals and hauling water to them not just on fair weather days but through the snow and rain too.
Animals are no different than people in that they like to be outdoors. Map out where appropriate sized pens or pasture need to be placed. Pasture and hay fields can be farther away from the house since these areas aren’t usually visited daily.
Map out the route that a farm tractor, 4 wheeler or other conveyance will take to access all parts of the property. Note where fences would likely be placed as well as the best placement for gates.
Animals make copious quantities of waste byproducts that will need to be shoveled out and occasionally dealt with. I would want any outhouse, leach field or animal waste compost bins situated a safe distance from my well. I would defer to the local building codes for your area on what that distance needs to be but 100 feet is a good starting point. Safe drinking water is the priority here.
Bear in mind, a narrow, barely flowing meandering stream near the proposed home site can become a raging threat during spring runoff or an abnormal rain event. Site the buildings accordingly and have an escape plan if waters rise to dangerous levels.
By the same token, the opposite extreme can occur. That peaceful, wooded setting can become a raging forest fire during dry conditions so having a buffer between the buildings and the forest is a must as is an escape plan. Distance from the house to any outbuildings should be a safe span so that in the event either the house or an outbuilding was to catch fire, the whole homestead does not burn down.
Any woodshed should face south if possible so it can get sun and summer breezes to dry the wood in preparation for the heating season. Try to situate it close to the entrance most likely to be used for bringing in the wood.
A Beginner’s Mistake
Finally, let me tell you about a mistake I made early on in my homesteading career. At my first homestead in Maine, I hired a bulldozer to reclaim an old woods road and overgrown potato field. This potato field was a jungle of alder, young poplar, spruce and fir. It was 4 acres in size and was destined to be my home site. The bulldozer dropped the blade and set to work dozing all the growth into one humongous pile in the center of the field. That seemed like a good idea at the time. But what actually occurred was that along with all the tree and root material, the dozer blade skimmed off the best top soil and put it in the pile too. My plan was to burn the woody material and quickly recover my field. What really happened is the woody mass was so full of dirt, it would never burn so it took me years to cut the debris into firewood and slowly work my way through the pile. Then it took more years to rebuild the soil into something I could work with.
What a colossal mistake! Instead of using the blade, a grubbing attachment called a root rake would have been more appropriate for the job. That implement would have been able to root out the trees while leaving most of the top soil behind. It would also have been able to roll the pile along as it pushed it into the center of my field thereby giving the soil a chance to drop off. I hope my hard learned lessons will prove of value to you.
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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