Advice from seasoned homesteaders
I bought a roll of actual silage tarp from Farmers Friend, here: https://www.farmersfriend.com/products/weed-management/silage-tarp
It’s rated for 365 solar days. For me that’ll be 2-3 years worth of use, which should be all I need, and more, to get my soil back under proper management.
Well, VTGothic just about covered it, but there’s a lot in his post to take in, so I’ll just mention my priorities:
7. Start small. There is a learning curve. Traverse some of it before making the plunge. You’ll get better results and enjoy it more if you can stay on top of things. Overambitious can very easily translate into overwhelmed. If you live in an apartment or a condo, you can try out container gardening first.
2. Build soil (and other infrastructure) first. Compost bins, a fenced garden area, and irrigated beds reward early investment with huge dividends down the road. Putting off these essentials is just asking for (sometimes bitter) disappointment. Having your sweet potatoes repeatedly grazed by deer is not fun, nor is watching your free-range compost pile get overtaken by weeds. And you’re going to end up doing them anyway.
10. Focus on core crops first. ‘Nuf said. Well, except I’ll also add that you should forget about growing anything you don’t like to eat. I’ll also add (properly staked or caged) tomatoes and bell peppers to VT’s list, depending on your locale and your personal tastes. They’re easy to grow and are a great addition to your garden. Keep the number of tomato plants within reason. A well-tended plant can produce a LOT of tomatoes.
I’m going to add a few of my own:
1. Never over-crowd. It’s far better to have four tomato plants that are healthy and accessible than twelve that become diseased and form a thicket that can’t be properly tended or harvested. Scrupulously observe the spacing requirements on the seed packet.
2. Spread out plantings through the growing season. Beans, for example, tend to produce over a limited time span — about a month to six weeks in my area. Ditto for corn. So you’re going to want to plant beans every month to six weeks throughout the growing season, taking into account the time from planting to harvest. If you live in a four-season area, you’ll want to preserve some for the off-season, so factor this into your planting schedule.
3. The price of a successful garden is eternal vigilance. A garden very quickly becomes a lifestyle. Think about how much time you have DAILY to invest in your garden and let that dictate how much to plant. It only takes a few days absence for a garden to begin to get away from you. A succession of absences guarantees it. A garden supported by good infrastructure only takes a modest amount to keep on top of, but you have to put in that time regularly.
4. Get your garden up and running before thinking about a food forest. At least in the southeast, growing fruit trees successfully has its own learning curve and can be a lot of work. You’re going to learn a lot about things you’ve never heard of before, such as codling moths, June beetles, peach borers, fire blight, blossom-end rot and many, many others. You’re going to learn about Neem oil, BT, beneficial nematodes, and Surround. Not to mention pruning, thinning, storage, etc. There’s a reason that tree fruit is expensive in the grocery store. If your area is suitable for growing blueberries or figs, I’d recommend starting with them. At least here in Virginia, they’re much less susceptible to pests than traditional fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches, and plums. YMMV.
Good luck, and thanks to VTGothic for a very concise and thorough list of considerations.
Thank you, @VTGothic
I’ve learned some of those the hard way already. The first year we planted lettuce, we planted without enough distance, and the plants curled and didn’t grow.
This year, we planted two times. We usually just plant once in spring, but we planted beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, and peas a couple of weeks ago. The plants are looking great so far.
What are people doing to make homesteads economically viable? I understand that a talented homesteader spend very little, but presumably there has to be some cash flow.
For me, as a speech pathologist, working in the public school a few miles from my farm serves as a good way to have the cash flow. I have 2 1/2 months free in the summer to do the bulk of my gardening. It gets crazy busy in the spring and fall, but I haven’t figured out any other ways to make a living and keeping a homestead. Public schools are in rural areas and always need some sort of help!
Thanks. That’s an option for me (perhaps not right at this moment, though), as I have extensive classroom experience 9-12 in both public and private high schools. However, the politics of suburban schools drove me away, and I have to imagine that they’re six of one, half dozen of another in rural districts. Still, I might be able to make part-time teaching work.