This post was most recently updated on April 12th, 2023
If you are looking at buying a property, and want to start a homestead from scratch, it is hard to know what are the most important things to do in first year of homesteading on your new land.
Please read: This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or prevent any disease. We encourage you to make your own health care decisions in partnership with a qualified health care professional.
This post contains affiliate links, this means at no extra cost to you, we make a commission from sales. Please read our Disclosure Statement
Building a homesteading skill set can be a life long process, but there are some key skills that are worth learning and developing right at the start.
If you are starting a small backyard homestead or a large self sufficient homestead out in the country somewhere, the initial steps to setting up are pretty much the same.
How to Start Homesteading where you Live
It is not always easy to cope with the increasing prices of groceries, and other living expenses. Trying to live a frugal life and keeping within our means was the beginning of our journey in to homesteading.
You might not be in a position to be buying a large rural homestead or ranch right now, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start homesteading land in your own backyard.
If you are finding money tight, or have lots of debt to pay off, or just want to save some money then this is the best time to cut down on some costs and think of starting a homestead.
Being self-sufficient is not limited to earning money farming or doing the all daily household chores on your own by hand.
Homesteading is one of the most prominent examples of becoming as self-sufficient as you can where you live, right now. Be it out in the country on a homestead property, or on your little urban homestead.
Here are a few things that you should keep in mind before starting your new homestead or buying land to farm:
Location of a homestead
You can stay in one of the busiest streets of NY and still succeed in urban homesteading if you want to do so.
But it is always wise to decide the location of your homestead so that you have an idea of what type of homestead you want to start.
The best idea is to start homesteading where you are now. If you are broke and have the backyard to work with, you can grow lettuce and herbs by making the most of the space you have.
Those who have a bigger space to work with will be able to grow veggies by raising the beds.
If you have the resources and the desire to do so, you can move and find another, larger property to start your homestead on. The further out from the cities that you live, the cheaper the land will be, but the less infrastructure will be available to you. This is a balance act that you will have to decide for yourself, how much convenience vs the financial cost.
Do your research well
The easiest route to homesteading is if you have friends or relatives who already have a homestead. This will help you understand the process step by step.
There are numerous books to read and videos to watch but most importantly, you have to really research the things that you will be wanting to work with, grow or own.
Homesteading can start even by keeping for eggs with a few chickens in a chicken coop in your urban backyard , or growing some vegetables on your windowsill.
You can be building your homesteading skills well before you buy a big homestead property.
What is Homesteading in it’s essence?
The original term of homesteading was from in the USA early days. The homestead act in America used to allow people to stake out their claim on public land and if you could live there for five years, then you could call it your own. In New Zealand they did something similar with a ballot system with the early settlers. Sadly free land is no longer available, so wherever you are, chances are you will have to pay for it.
While this is no longer the case, the modern take on homesteading is gaining in popularity.
The basic idea of starting a homestead is embracing sustainable living and self reliance . It is a golden opportunity to save on daily grocery bills and utilize the space you have around the house for productive purposes.
The first steps to building your homestead from scratch
So what are the first things to do on your new homestead, and what are the most important things to do in your first year of homesteading?
This will vary depending on how set up your new homestead is, how desperate you are to plant a fruit tree or buy your favorite farm animal, and what your overall homestead goals and actual budget are.
No two people’s homesteading journey is the same, but below are the steps that make sense to starting your new homestead from scratch without causing undue stress or expense.
1. Set your Homesteading goals
If you are an aspiring homesteader with great and lofty homestead dreams, let me bring you back to earth for a moment. Start your homesteading journey with just a few simple steps and aim to keep improving on them.
You cannot start a homestead by doing all the things all at once. For one thing, that is going to cost you a lot of money, and for another thing, you will be terribly overwhelmed and discouraged.
Start small and slowly build up your homesteading dream as you have time and money to do so.
What do you want to grow on your homestead?
Whether or not your homestead is your primary residence, you will want to be growing some sort of food on your land. There are other options for using your land as well.
As I mentioned earlier, homesteading can start with just a few chickens .
Small goats, quail and other smaller animals are also good choices.
Crops and gardens
It is possible to raise livestock animals and grow crops at the same time.
Take some samples of the soil from different areas of the land and get them tested for their fertility. Soil that is suitable for growing pretty plants and trees may not be ideal for growing your vegetable crops.
Once the fertility is determined, you will have to work on improving the soil so that it becomes appropriate for cultivation and growing in. Having the land facing your midday sun’s direction will be wise as this helps growing better crops.
You also need to check the land and soil for several other things like flooding, water accessibility, natural windbreaks, and drainage options.
Those who are opting for both crops and livestock will have to keep the areas separate so that the goats or chickens don’t come grazing in the area where you are growing your vegetables .
There are many animals and plants that can be grown as fiber sources for textiles, rabbits, goats, sheep and alpacas are the most popular options.
Fruit and nut trees
If you have a larger plot of land, you can use some of it to grow longer term plants that will keep harvesting for a hundred or more years. Nuts and fruit trees take years to get established but they have many benefits, including an increasing yield with decreasing input.
Land with room to grow trees, or an existing wood lot or forestry can be a real benefit to keeping you supplied in firewood. A $1 tree will provide over $100 worth of firewood once it is grown.
What do you want to accomplish in your first year of homesteading?
Make a plan of what you would like on your homestead, and then you can start looking for the land that will support your dream homesteading lifestyle. Read here for more on setting homestead goals
2. Buying land / assessing a new homestead
Before you make the significant purchase of buying your new homestead, be sure to check out these key features and make sure they fit in with your homestead goals.
Accessibility of water
Water availability is very crucial for homesteading . In addition to checking the land and soil quality, you should also check if your area will be able to support the quantity of water you need every day.
See if you can catch rain water in to tanks or barrels, if there is a well on site, or if there is a stream, pond, lake or river on the section
If there is a shortage of water, you may have to drill a well or have a pump attached to the nearby well to source water.
You might like to check out these posts:
Access to your land
Usually the cheaper the land is, the less accessible it will be. Is this something that can be easily fixed with an excavator? Or do you need to buy a boat, four wheel drive car or maybe a helicopter?
Sun, Slope, Wind
These are things that can not easily or cheaply be changed. Try and find land that faces your mid day sun, is not too windy or too steep.
Amending soil can be labor intensive and expensive, so check the soil quality and see if it will work with what you are planning on doing with the land.
3. Moving in
Once you have bought your dream homestead land, it is time to move in and get established. You might have a house to build, or move in to an existing house.
Establish a water supply
Humans and animals both need water to survive. Make a water source your top priority after setting up some shelter. Drill a well, capture rainfall or tap a spring, whatever is appropriate and lawful where you live.
Organise some power or heating
Without some way of heating and cooking life will be much more difficult. It could be as simple as candles and a firepit, or as fancy as a full solar array and expensive gas cooker or somewhere in between.
Meeting the neighbors
One of the very first things that you should do is to go and meet your neighbors. Take them a cake, a batch of cupcakes or something similar and introduce yourself. Ask if there is anything you should know about the area and give them your contact details.
Being out in the middle of no where really makes you more reliant on your community for help if something goes wrong, so it is best to know who they are, what their skills are and how to contact them quickly.
4. Getting secure
Building shelter is priority one when you first move in. Ignore pretty much everything that isn’t urgent while you get your home base established. Once this is accomplished, securing your perimeter with good fencing will establish your boundaries, keep predators out and keep your future livestock in.
Part of your security is having some food stored away in case of emergency, this is especially true if there is a change of flooding cutting off your route to the nearest shops.
Invest some time and money in to at least a few months of stored food. Be it freeze dried, frozen, dehydrated or canned, in case of poor access to the supermarket, build a bank of food.
5. Start a garden
Once you are settled in, and the time is right, now you can start a garden. Try and plan to do it in a place that is secure from wild animals, somewhere sunny and with fertile soil.
Brand new raw land can take some breaking in, so start small and give yourself grace.
Your growing season at your new property might be quite different to where you were living before, so take this as a new learning opportunity and start your vegetable garden slowly.
Taking on an acre or more of garden space in the first year is asking for failed crops and disappointment. If you have not gardened before, a few raised beds might be a better way to get used to growing your own food.
Prepare to till to get a garden started, even if long term you want to be no-till.
If you are wanting to grow storage crops like corn, beans, peas, squash, potatoes or sweet potatoes you will need a large area that has been tilled to break it in, and then you will have the challenge of keeping on top of the weed growth.
No till practices where you add a layer of compost to the top of the soil as a mulch will reduce weed pressure, as will covering the ground with tarps between crop rotations.
6. Plant some trees
Once you have your annual garden in to stave off the grocery store, now you can start planning and planting some more long term plants.
Fruit trees, nut trees and fire wood trees as well as ones for shelter are all worth investing in. Look for varieties that grow quickly in your area and try to buy them in bulk from forestry or nursery supply services, they will be much cheaper than buying individually from the nursery or hardware store.
We found that we could graft our own apples and pears for under $10 per tree versus buying them at the nursery for $50 each.
7. Get some internal fences
The good thing about gardens is that they don’t escape if you don’t have a fence, but while they are growing, now is a good time to look at fencing your pastures.
A good fence will keep children and livestock in while keeping predators out. Fencing is not cheap, especially if you pay someone to do it for you. Look at using some alternative methods if cost is an issue for you.
We chose to run cheaper electric wire fences, they are quick to put up and they keep things in and out better than a solid wire fence as long as they are turned on and packing a punch. We are slowly replacing them with woven wire fences as we have time and the money to do so.
8. Add some livestock
Now is the time you can look at adding some livestock. Backyard chickens are a great first addition, especially laying hens as they can supply farm fresh eggs, while providing free labor for turning your compost pile. All they need is a coop or old outbuilding and a run.
Growing pigs is another easy way to add meat production, especially if you just want to raise feeder pigs in a pen.
9. Get preserving
Once your garden and livestock start producing a harvest for you, now is the time to start preserving it all and putting it up to eat later.
If you have a root cellar you can save some time instead of canning, many things can be stored unprocessed in here instead.
This is when your home’s value really starts to show. Look at all that food you produced!
10. Keep improving
Each year is a lesson, each year you will be able to look back at your progress and see how far you have come. Learn from your mistakes and move on. The wonderful thing about being in touch with the seasons is that you get very used to the cyclical nature of the farm, and what doesn’t work this time, you can try again next time in a different way.
One garden bed might not be enough garlic, so next year you know to grow two. Three pigs might be too much pork, so next spring just get two.
Growing from seed direct in the soil might have been spoilt by an unexpected frost in your new area, so next season you might just start your seeds indoors. Nothing is a failure on the modern homestead because we do have access to other food options if our crops or livestock fail to provide. Just consider it a lesson and learn what you need to change for next time.
Be sure to keep an eye out for extra canning jars wherever you go, you can never have too many mason jars ! Picking them up from the second hand store on the off season is the very best way to build up your preserving jar stash before you need them.
Time for a reality check
It is easy to read about what you should do and what you shouldn’t from the internet and start planning for a homestead, dreams are easy and free right?
But it is important to be realistic of your expectations. It is wise to start with tiny projects to see if the plans are working before you invest a lot of money.
Start keeping eggs for a couple of months before trying something else. Or buy bulk local produce and learn how to preserve it. Grow a garden or some herbs .
This will give a reality check on homesteading and if it is suitable for you and if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.