What happens when you purchase 30 acres of completely raw land to develop into a permaculture homestead, live in an RV and discover your wife is pregnant two weeks after closing?
You take a deep breath, grab your tools and get to building a home – in-between hourly bouts of anxiety attacks, of course.
Developing Raw Land
As if taking on the developing raw land into a permaculture homestead is not enough, now there was a timeline. If we want to have our child born on our new land, we had shy of 9 months to build a home, alone.
Questions began to race: What should we build? Better yet, what can we build in 9 months? How do we get roads, power, and water to the house site? Oh wait, I am going to be a dad?!?
Right – back to land development – how does permaculture play its role in developing bare land?
Is baby poop toxic?
How do you wire 220 appliances?
Celebrating the day we closed on our land with our relator!
Then reality started to sink in. We only had the budget for the materials. There was enough money to hire contractors, and no extra green to even hire cheap labor for an extra set of hands.
My wife was pregnant, meaning I will be doing all the hard labor myself. Oye.
I sure as hell hope not!!
But this was our situation.
Homestead Trailer Trash
We were living in a 5th wheel trailer on a friend’s homestead, about 30 minutes away from our new land. With one wound-up border collie and a cat that hated every minute of it, space was a bit cramped.
To be fair, it wasn’t all that bad. It was 34′ feet long and had two slide outs, and probably larger than some NYC apartments, but trying to use a trailer kitchen to process your own food, store it, and eat healthy home-cooked meals was harder than I would have thought.
We had bought the 5th wheel to temporarily live in while building our house, so we were ok with all this for the time being. However, raising a newborn or spending the entire winter in it wasn’t part of the plan.
Now, just in case you think we have it too easy thus far – on top of all I’ve already mentioned (you know, the two huge things of developing bare land and becoming a new dad?!) I was also in school attending the Ecological Landscaper Immersion program, at the Permaculture Skills Center. Meaning. three days a week I commuted 3h+ from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the CA coast in Sebastopol.
So, that left 4 days a week to build our dream permaculture homestead, making a little spending money, and daily life. In less than 9 months. Yikes.
Our one saving grace was that we had recently sold our rental property and all the profits were going to be put into this land development. Really, it’s the only way we were able to attempt the crazy adventure. These funds afforded us the time so that I only had to work a few hours a week, and Beth was worked part-time.
While I was busy with all the manly, brute physical side of the home construction, Beth became our ruthless accountant on a strict budget, a master DIY researcher, and secondhand deal-finder extraordinaire.
What did we start with?
Oak Meadows (as it came to be called), was the most beautiful piece of raw land we had seen in over a year and a half of searching. The Gods must have been smiling upon us, rewarding us for our patience, because we got everything on our wish list and more.
This land is home to an oak woodland, pine forest, meadows among seasonal creeks and springs. There’s 180-degree views, agricultural soil and not too far from town. It had a well previously drilled boasting 60gpm+, and an underground power transformer at the base of the rough cut driveway (that was starting to turn back into canyons and forest).
There were a few acres that had been already cleared for development, but that was it – the rest was up to us.
But why this piece of raw land specifically? Sure many parcels have all of the things we listed above.
Permaculture teaches that the path of least resistance has the most return. Said differently, work with nature not against it.
With our agricultural goals in mind, we set out for a list of must have items that we knew would ensure our homestead dream would succeed.
Our non-negotiable list for our bare land purchase was:
- Good Soil (Yes soil can be built but we didn’t want to wait 5 years for a good garden).
- Strong well
- Variety of microclimates and varied topography
- Surface Water
- Power on site (have you ever priced bringing power to raw land?? It can cost as much as developing the land. Also, solar wasn’t an option for us as the bank loan required grid tie)
- Privacy & Space
- Slopes less than 15% on the majority of the land (living in the mountains means every parcel has slope)
Homestead Development Tools
A stock pile of real tools is absolutely necessary when developing a homestead.
We’re thrifty folk and have been collecting and purchasing tools for many years. We had acquired most every tool that a homesteader needed. Wood working, welding, hand tools, power tools, you name it.
PS – I’m not talking about some silly kids tools like a 14″ electric chain saw. You need real mountain man kinda tools. The kind that requires a long beard, worn out and faded Carhartt pants and a hell of a lot of confidence to operate. For the women reading omit the long beard part.
Anyway, the Husqvarna 20″ Rancher chainsaw is the second best tool I bought for the homestead. Read on for the most important tool.
Full List of Tools
Get a full list of tools that are must haves to develop raw land!
Beth has been known to have a hawk-like vision for side of the road ‘free’ piles or a radar beacon for amazing yard sales – we’ve walked away with some scores to be jealous of.
We once filled the entire back of the truck full of tools, baskets of irrigation parts, buckets of hardware, scrap metal for less than $60.
Even still though, throughout our building process, there were many (MANY) trips to the hardware store for tools or parts we didn’t have. Things you might not think of until your knee deep in a project and need that whosawhatsit.
Our neighborhood community was also invaluable for the help, advice, or lending us some big-ticket items.
Little Orange Dinosaur
We wouldn’t be where we are today without our trusty, hardworking, ever-so-useful compact tractor (Kubota bx25 loader backhoe).
This was by far the most helpful asset we to make it physically possible for one tall lanky man and ever-growing pregnant woman to meet our timelines. This piece of equipment allowed us to clear and make roads, dig the trench for power, lift extremely heavy loads of building materials, move piles and who knows what else.
It was a pricey investment, but has paid for itself tenfold for all the jobs it’s done and I can’t say enough about this tool for starting out a homestead.
First Year Homestead Development Goals
While our complete permaculture homestead plan has more desires than you can shake a stick at, we honed the first year’s goals down to what we thought we had to have and what we believed we could get done.
In 9 months we were hoping to accomplish:
- Power Systems
- Water Systems
- Small workshop / Tool Shed
- Grade and Gravel 1/4 mile of driveway
- Clear land and Build Our Home
As if that isn’t lofty enough we wanted to have done in one years time:
- 1/4 acre veggie garden
- Pastured Chickens
- Smal orchard
With Beth pregnant, and therefore not always feeling well enough to work, it meant I was alone most of the year doing the work.
The majority of the help I did receive was from my dad, who was able to spend able to spend almost an entire month helping me build our home in the woods.
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A Permaculture Homestead Reality Show?
Have you seen those slightly dramatized reality shows on the Discovery channel, like Alaska The Last Frontier and Homestead Rescue?
You know the shows where every episode something catastrophic like rolling a tractor or someone falling through the floor of a building happens?
Well actually those examples weren’t from a reality show, they are two of many such events that actually happened to us!
Hopefully, I’ve peaked your interest in our story. I have tons to share with you – from entertaining stories to details about how and why we did what we did developing our homestead.
Do you think we pulled it off??
Part II of Developing Raw Land into a Permaculture Homestead in one year will be coming soon!
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thanks for sharing. we have recently bought 8 acres in Northland New Zealand to do similar to you. I rolled the 1.8 Tonne digger yesterday, and was pleased to see in you photo’s its par for the course (and have heard same here in NZ, lots of rolled diggers & tractors)………
Thanks for sharing – you have inspired me, i am looking to develop my homestead on raw land too, which i have recently purchased
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Just reading this and in escrow to close on land in 7 days just outside of Las Vegas. Permaculture and a small CSA is the dream for us. The chellenges will be similar but we need to pull power, dig the well and then develop. The goal is living on property in a year.
Nice Kyle! Hope it all works out with the land in escrow and you can get to work 🙂
Sounds like quite a start to an adventure! Developing our homestead has seems like a reality show at times too. Or the circus. What has been the hardest part so far?
Two things. First, struggling with the idea of enjoy the journey and not focusing on the destination. Second it would be the strain it can put on a relationship at times. It is hard. Not exaggerating at all!
Hey Bret, Looking forward to part two.
Thanks – posted!
Certainly interested to read more about your homestead and what you accomplished on your short timeline.
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