If you're thinking of buying land for your homestead, you need at least enough for a garden and maybe also some animals—space for a hen house and rabbit pens, pasture, and a barn for goats or a cow. You have to think way ahead to get your piece of land. You have to make sacrifices and maybe work two jobs to boot. But you can do it if you really want to.
Many people have sunk all their money into a piece of land, only to discover they can't find jobs in the area, the land isn't fertile, they don't like the area after all, etc. I strongly recommend that you first rent and try to find work in the area you're interested in. Once you have commenced earning a living there, you can gradually, and more knowledgeably, shop for land while you rent. But Where? Here are some factors to consider when choosing where to look for land.
Can you get a job nearby?
Would some kind of special training make it more possible for you to earn a living there? Jobs in really rural areas are scarce, and openings go first to local people (and they should). Rural jobs are often highly specialized, such as logging or operating farm equipment (you have to be a skilled mechanic too). If you are city-raised, you don't know anything about these things, and potential employers understand that even better than you. You'll have to learn your way around— learn where to ask and whom to ask for. You may want to pick a spot near a university or medium-sized town if that is a place where you'd have a marketable skill. Unless you have a large and dependable private income, stay near a place where you are sure you can find work, probably a city of some size.
Can you afford land there?
| On the other hand, land prices near the cities are high because of the heavy competition for properties, and property taxes are high too. | You have to go hundreds of miles from any major metropolitan area to find land at its true agricultural value. An area receiving a flood of immigrants can change its nature very quickly. Certain very scenic and well-publicized areas are attracting so many new residents that the influx is creating problems with sewage disposal and pressure on the school system, not to mention that whole valley bottoms of fertile | land are getting covered with homes. (Better to put the house on your untillable hillside and reserve the flat for garden, cropland, or pasture.) Land in that sort of too-quickly growing area is already expensive and getting more so. So if there are frequent "land for sale" signs and you see new homes left and right, consider looking elsewhere. And if you take a creek, timber, and a view of a snow-capped | mountain range off your list of necessities, you'll get a better price and fewer neighbors.
Can you do what you care about there?
| Do you just want a cottage for vacation getaways? Or a full-time place where you'll live year-round, grow food in a good garden, and have a pasture for animals and a woodlot for firewood? Or do you plan to vacation there now but live there full-time after it's paid for? Do you love fishing and want access to clean trout water? Or to a good deer hunting area? Do you want an existing home on the place or the | adventure of building your own? Do you want neighbors close or scarce and far away? Do you want store, school, and church close for convenience and economy? Or far away for privacy?
How much land do you need?
First of all, figure out the space you need for buildings, driveways, and lawns. Then add the space you want for a garden—and animals.
A Half Acre
| This would allow you to keep a couple hives of bees, plant a fruit orchard, and keep a few grazing animals, such as 2 milk goats, 2 weaner pigs, 3-12 hens, and some rabbits. If you have water, you could add a few ducks or geese. Put your orchard around the perimeter of your land, so you can have a permanent grass pasture in the center of it. If you divide up the pasture with electric fence and | rotate at intervals of 3 weeks or less, you can get more out of it. You'll need housing and yarding for all your animals, so they can be confined when the grass shows signs of failing under the onslaught. On just a half acre, you'll have to compromise with livestock between a confined lifestyle and some opportunities to get out on pasture. But a half acre is really very small.
Remember, we're not counting the house, lawn, etc. An acre is twice as good, of course, as a half. You could consider keeping a breed sow in place of the two weaner pigs and profiting by her piglets. If you hate goat milk, you might keep a small breed of cow instead, although this is still rather small for a cow. You could raise a half-dozen goslings as well as chickens and rabbits. Your animals will be able to get a greater part of their diet from grazing.
This would be enough to comfortably pasture a cow and grow a sizable garden and orchard, if all the soil is good and there's plenty of water to irrigate it. Three, four, or five acres would be better.
This is a mini-farm. You can install one or more ponds for raising fish and have numerous waterfowl too. You have enough land to have a nice grain patch or other field crop in rotation, in addition to your pasture and pond.
With twenty acres of good garden land, you could probably make your family's living by growing something.
Here we are talking about acres of fertile, irrigable ground. But they're hard to find, and costly. You're more likely to be offered wooded areas, steep hillsides, swamps, or shallow soils. But much depends on the skill of the gardener: the one before you, and the one you are. There are people who have made lush garden spots in the arctic and in the tropics, on salt soil and on bare rock, and in abandoned gravel pits.
How Do You Know if the land is fertile?
So how deep is the grass? How tall and lush are the trees? Have the berry bushes borne fruit? Consider also that you may be able to increase the production by building up the soil. A soil testing service can be located through your Yellow Pages or county agent, or you can do it yourself using a purchased kit. Soil chemistry tests tell you in precise, technical terminology that land's potential productivity.