Use this handy guide as your personal planner to stake out your homestead.
When you’re new to homesteading, it can be completely overwhelming to get started on your plans. Between prepping your land for a garden, keeping your livestock healthy, stocking your pantry and keeping your home in order, you might just forget to take a moment to relax and enjoy your new lifestyle.
Take some of the work out of your homesteading plans by following these guidelines in creating your personal oasis. Although some details will vary by climate and location, most of the information here is applicable to any type of homestead, whether it’s urban, rural, hot or cold.
HARVEST YOUR WINTER PLANTS. Depending on your climate, you should be able to harvest vegetables such as lettuce, peas, garlic, onions, beets, radishes, collard greens, and possibly potatoes this month. Store your root vegetables in your root cellar and consider preserving or freezing the other foods that you can’t eat right away.
PRUNE YOUR FRUIT TREES. Now that your fruit trees are completely done for the year, it’s time to prune them back and prepare them for spring.
DESIGN YOUR GARDEN AND ORDER SEEDS. Consider what you’ll be planting this spring and summer, and get ready to order your seeds so you’ll be ready to start planting inside before spring.
AVOID THIN ICE. Like most homesteaders, you probably make a habit of exploring the woods to gather winter berries and greens. However, use caution when walking over ice. There isn’t a foolproof guarantee that ice is safe to walk on, but you’ll be more likely to break through the ice if you notice water flowing under it or around the edges. In addition, water pooling on top of the ice or cracks appearing under it could indicate that the ice is too thin to traverse.
CHECK YOUR GROWING DATES AND START SEEDS INSIDE. Optimal germination for most seeds will occur in warm, moist conditions—which means that spring is the best time for most people to plant their produce. But even if you’ve bought seed packs for all of your favorite flavors, don’t sprinkle them around your garden just yet. Instead, you should determine the optimal time to plant each type of produce, and start them inside your house in containers near a window.
CONSIDER YOUR SOLAR OPTIONS. The hot weather will be coming before you know it, so if you’re considering capturing solar power, now is the time to start shopping. If you haven’t already set up solar panels to collect the sun power, review your options now so they’ll be ready to roll before the summer hits.
STAY HYDRATED. Working on your homestead in the cold can easily dehydrate you. In fact, if you get dehydrated in the cold, you’re also setting yourself up for frostbite, since the less water you have in your skin, the less heat you can retain, leading to dual dangerous conditions. But with streams frozen, you may turn to eating snow—which is safe, if you melt it. “Eating snow is a ‘net negative equation,’” says Cliff Hodges of Adventure Out, LLC. “Your body will expend more energy melting snow than what you’ll get out of it.” Therefore, heat the snow over your fire before consuming it and run it through a water filter, just to be safe.
PREP FOR FISHING SEASON. Although the dates you can fish in any area depend upon your location’s regulations, most areas allow fishing as early as March, so now is the time to get your gear and license in order. If you are going to get fish for dinner, the first thing you need to know is where in the lake or stream you will find them. Like any wild animal, their lives are based on where to get food and where to find shelter. You can find fish around logs, rocks, thick plants, weed beds, curves along the water bank, and especially the entrance or exit point at any body of water, because this is where the bottom gets churned by faster-moving water, releasing more food into the water.
SCHEDULE YOUR LIVESTOCK’S SPRING SHOTS. If you haven’t yet gotten your animals’ shots scheduled, now is the time to get them ready for summer with vaccinations and medications.
TILL YOUR GARDEN. As the frost melts, now is the time to till your garden so it will be ready for composting, fertilizing and planting.
SET OUT YOUR RAIN BARRELS. The rainy season is heading your way—if it hasn’t already started. Prepare your rain barrels to begin collecting water that you can use to keep your garden irrigated.
COLLECT YOUR COMPOST. The best food you can give your spring garden is your own homemade compost. This “gardener’s gold” is typically made from organic waste materials that you can combine together; as it decomposes, the ingredients blend together to create essential nutrients that can feed your plants. Once the compost is mature, you can apply this natural fertilizer to your soil to make it more welcoming to your plants.
PLANT YOUR CROPS. Equipped with your list of crops, you are ready to plot your garden area. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge field. Look for an area that gets full sun, drains well, and is clear of water and nutrient-stealing tree roots. A location close to your kitchen will make it convenient to grab herbs and vegetables quickly and therefore more often. This also makes it easier to spot sneaky weeds and keep a well-maintained garden.
Stake out the perimeter depending on how many plants you want, but as a general rule of thumb, a 10-by-20-foot plot is typically plenty for a variety of plants. Follow spacing suggestions on seed packets or starter plant tags to ensure that your plants have ample room to grow. Using your spade, cut the perimeter edges, digging down six to eight inches. Then, using the shovel, dig out the soil six inches down in a foot-wide strip across one end of the garden. Toss this soil into the wheelbarrow for safe keeping. Start the next row and turn the soil from the second row over into the first row. Leave any grass intact but face down—this adds nitrogen to the garden. Continue until you have turned each row over into the previous one. You will end with one empty row, but you can use the soil in the wheelbarrow for this. Try to do this two more times before planting, but only half the depth for subsequent turnings.
PREP FOR BABY CHICKS. If you’re planning to have some chicks on your homestead this spring, now is the time to prepare their living area. Baby chicks typically need about one square foot of space each. In addition, you should order your chicks if you don’t have your own hens, and build your incubator.
PREPARE YOUR HIVES FOR BEES. As with your other animals, spring is the time to get ready for bees to flourish. Prepare their hives by cleaning them out and ensuring they are tight and don’t need repairs.
BUY YOUR PIGLETS. Now is the time to bring home piglets to raise for meat that will keep you fed throughout the winter. Be sure to buy from a reputable pig farmer.
PREPARE FOR BABIES. Many livestock have their young in the spring, so if any of your animals are preparing to give birth, prepare their living areas with warm bedding such as hay, and ensure that they are healthy and ready for birth.
CHECK YOUR GARDEN FOR INSECTS. Unfortunately, as your plants and vegetables begin to grow, you’ll be attracting pests. Check for insects and be sure to apply insect repellent to ensure they don’t destroy your crops.
BUILD YOUR TOMATO CAGES. To make sure your tomatoes will stay healthy this summer, start building or repairing your tomato cages to ensure they’ll stay secure.
CHECK IN ON YOUR INCUBATOR. If you ordered eggs for chicks and you don’t have a hen, incubate your eggs to ensure they’ll stay warm before hatching. Check them daily to see whether there are any signs of emerging chicks. These little birds like to be kept at about 90 to 95 degrees (F) during their first week, after which you can decrease the temperature a few degrees per week.
START HURRICANE PREP. If you live in a hurricane-vulnerable area, prepare now to ensure that your homestead remains safe from storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, and impacts the Gulf Coast as well as the East Coast. Make sure you’ve canned and jarred enough food to have at least a couple weeks’ worth of food in your pantry for emergency situations. Also, have some wood on hand to cover your windows and glass doors, and make sure you also have a secure shelter for your animals.
PRUNE YOUR FRUIT TREES. As fruit comes off of your fruit-bearing trees, prune them back and check for insects to ensure they stay healthy.
PICK THOSE BERRIES. Now’s the time to collect your blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, either in the wild or on your own homestead.
EMPTY YOUR RAIN BARRELS. Rain barrels are a great way to collect water, and because the heat is on this time of year, you should empty them onto your garden as you fertilize it. Also make sure your rain barrels are free of mold.
CAN YOUR TOMATOES. You’ve probably picked most of your tomatoes, and although a few stragglers might still grow, now is the time to begin canning and jarring them so you’ll be able to make spaghetti sauce, salsa, and other delicious tomato-based meals throughout the winter.
GUARD AGAINST WILDFIRES. Wildfires strike when the air is dry—typically summer and fall. Across the United States, wildfires cause billions of dollars in damage per year. In 2009 alone, 78,792 wildfires occurred in the U.S., damaging nearly six million acres of land, FEMA statistics indicate. If you want to secure your home against a wildfire, you need to take into account the building materials and design of your home, and the placement of near-home vegetation to ensure that you don’t fall victim.
PREPARE FOR HUNTING SEASON. Depending on where you live and what you’re hunting, the time for hunting season can vary, but most jurisdictions allow deer hunting in the early fall. Buy your license, get your bow and arrow or rifle prepared, and be sure to inspect all of your gear for safety.
BEGIN COLLECTING FIRE WOOD. The cold weather is approaching, so you should start chopping wood to ensure that you have a warm winter both inside and out. Collect firewood, cut it, and store it somewhere that it can stay dry.
CAN AND JAR YOUR REMAINING FRUIT AND VEGETABLES. Now is the time to harvest what’s left of your summer garden. Preserve your vegetables and fruits so they’ll carry you into winter.
BEGIN TO HARVEST YOUR AUTUMN/WINTER CROPS. The late autumn yield from your garden should still be rich with tomatoes, peppers, and peas, especially if you picked the first round in late summer and quickly repaired and replanted in your beds. These canning and stockpile essentials can be kept hardy even through a light frost with a portable greenhouse or homemade covering. Many nurseries and hardware stores, in addition to online seed companies, offer several inexpensive covers for winter seed and frost gardening cultivation. Make sure you scoop out the seeds from these fruits and vegetables, allowing them to dry for up to two weeks before storing.
SITUATE YOUR ROOT CELLAR. Even if you don’t have a basement, you can still create your own version of a root cellar, says Steve Maxwell, co-author of The Complete Root Cellar Book. “As long as a person has access to some kind of soil, you can create a root cellar from nothing more than a hole in the ground.” In fact, Maxwell says, some people create above-ground root cellars.
“A little bit of insulation and a little bit of electricity allows anyone to have a root cellar, even if they don’t have access to a basement or backyard,” he advises. A high moisture content is required for effective root cellars, since most root crops keep best at a temperature just above freezing and with a relative humidity of 90 to 95 percent.
PREPARE TO “OVERWINTER” YOUR GARDEN. After you have harvested your fall crops, you can begin “overwintering” your garden. Overwintering means planting and preparing your beds for your early spring vegetables. After you adapt the recently harvested soil, root and bulb vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, onions, and garlic are excellent to sow in your space for overwintering. They will need to be in the growing process before you cover the soil with a layer of mulch and may look lackluster and dreary for a while. Broccoli and cauliflower as well as leafy greens like spinach and kale can also be planted now.
CONVERT YOUR OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES. If you usually cook outside and hang your laundry outdoors, now is the time to get those activities situated indoors. You can use specific pots over your indoor fireplace or wood stove to cook (if you’re off-grid) and can string a clothesline across your attic or any other room that gets warmth for your laundry.
MULCH YOUR LEAVES. If you make your own mulch, now is the time to pull leaves and other yard waste together to make your mulch so you’ll have it ready to use in your garden.
PRESERVE YOUR MEAT FOR WINTER. Hunting season is over, so now is the time to can, freeze, smoke, dehydrate or otherwise preserve your meat and fish to get through winter with a good supply of protein. In addition, for many livestock such as pigs, this is the time to slaughter them and get the meat ready for storage.
THINK ABOUT YOUR WINTER SHELTER. If your homestead involves a tepee or tent rather than a constructed home, location is everything, and you should plan now to ensure that you keep out the elements. However, many people debate whether a hill or valley is the warmer location for a tent. “The answer to this depends on the landscape where you are,” says Tim Smith of Jack Mountain Bushcraft School. “Many factors come into play, such as the potential for an avalanche on the mountain, which location has the most resources for making a fire, and other issues. But in open country, I’d make my campsite at the bottom of the hill. It will pool the coolest air but it won’t be a difference of 50 degrees—the gradations will be small.” The bottom of the hill will be more protected from wind chill, which could not only make you colder but could make it harder to keep your fire going. Therefore, first “test out” your location with a temporary camp setup before the weather gets bitter cold. Once you find your warmest and least windy location, then you can put down more permanent roots to settle in for the winter.
CHECK HOME INSULATION. If you’re in a house or other sturdy structure, ensure that your thermal envelope is sound so you won’t lose precious heat. Open your curtains when the sun is shining to collect the most natural heat possible, and bolster your insulation in the walls, floors, ceiling and roof so you stay snug and warm all winter.
ORDER FRUIT TREES. If you intend to plant any fruit trees in the spring, now’s the time to place your orders so you’ll be ready to have them up and growing by spring.