Whether you want to begin homesteading where you are, find a new location, or improve the homestead you have, proper planning is essential. Planning the layout of your homestead is an invitation to think critically about how you want to live. How many people ever actually take the time to do that?
5 Homestead Layout Planning Tips
Tip # 1: Identify Limiting Factors
Before you get carried away dreaming about your homestead, every homestead will have some limiting factors. For example, vegetable gardens need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day and preferably a lot more. A garden in a shady location is an obvious “don't.”
Not so obvious though, is trying not to build a garden in a deer path. Sure, you can do it. But if you start your garden in a deer path, there's a good chance those deer will take it as an invitation to dine on your dime.
Before you start planning your layout, take some time to study your land. If possible, get an aerial view of your property, like from Google Maps. Use that image or a plot plan to note your observations.
Your map doesn't have to be pretty. It is just for your information. Try to identify the following potentially limiting factors:
- Shaded areas
- Existing animal paths
- Windy zones
- Areas that flood easily or erode
- Areas with limited soil
- Potential fire zones
- Utility lines
- Lack of water access
- Large trees
- Other obstacles
Depending on where you live, you may have a few different concerns. Homeowner association rules can be a limiting factor. Disagreeable neighbors can be a problem. Civic regulations on structures, fencing, and even gardening or livestock activities may come into play.
Some limiting factors can be navigated around or turned to a positive. If you have no soil, you can use raised beds. Where have a fire zone, that might be an excellent spot for a pond and some water holding willows. Others may be deal breakers.
Identifying these limiting factors before you start planning will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.
Tip # 2: Make Your Wish List
Now with the realities of your homestead landscape in mind, make your list. You know – that long list of things you would do if you had the time and money but haven't dared to put on paper yet.
Chickens, ducks, goats, bees, vegetable garden, food forest, rabbits, rain barrels, frog pond, greenhouse, smokehouse, horses, root cellar, drying and curing shed, laundry line, window boxes, herb spiral, keyhole garden bed, pigs, mason bee houses, pasture, pollinator plot, wildlife habitat, wood stove, firewood, aquaponic system, orchard, solar power, outdoor kitchen, vineyard, mushrooms…
I could keep going, chances are you already have a lot on your list. If you just started dreaming and your list is a little hazy on what you want, then do some research. Read homesteading manuals and scour blogs about homesteading. I also encourage you to check out books and blogs on permaculture.
Tip # 3 Give Your Wish List a Reality Check
I homestead full-time. I can tell you, from experience, that even with efficient systems and dedication, you will not be able to do it all. So, now for the tough part. You need to shorten your wish list to something manageable. Ask yourself these questions:
Why do you want to homestead?
Is it for self-sufficiency? Concern for the environment? To learn skills? Do you love the charm and simplicity of living closer to the land? Do you want a crash course in homesteading?
Please be honest. Trying to be food self-sufficient when you only want to grow herbs and raise chickens for fun is a waste of your time. There are degrees of self-sufficiency in homesteading and even just focusing on one area, or a few areas can gain you the experience and skills for a more meaningful life.
For self-sufficiency, water, food, and energy are top priorities. Your homestead plan should include the infrastructure to provide these things in ways that are not reliant on external inputs.
Having water in large ponds, deep wells, and springs are great ideas if you have the land. Cisterns attached to rain gutters are useful. Tanks of fresh, clean water are a must even with other collection methods in place.
Food self-sufficiency can take many forms. Growing a large vegetable garden and some field crops can work. Raising efficient meat animals like rabbits and Pekin ducks are worthwhile. Planting perennial landscape plots that include fruits, nuts, herbs, and other edibles diversify your options. Wild areas can be used to forage and hunt.
Most people immediately think solar panels when they think about energy self-sufficiency. These are good. But building a homestead that uses less energy is better.
Gravity fed water systems, in-ground greenhouses, laundry lines, composting toilets, and wood-fired stoves (if you've got a forest) all make you less dependent on external energy. Include infrastructure to reduce energy dependence in your plan. Then you can also add solar panels, wind turbines, methane digesters and solar water heaters for your comfort.
Concern for the Environment
Not everything about homesteading is sustainable. Just because you do it at home doesn't automatically make it better and safer for the environment. If sustainability is your goal, start by eliminating things you don't need to have or do before you add more.
REDUCE is the first step in sustainability. When you've paired down what you can, then look for things you can do at home to replace stuff you buy that are harmful to the environment.
Growing a compost-powered garden, raising chickens mostly on forage and table scraps, growing shiitakes on logs salvaged from your local timber industry – these are sustainable options. Building a megacoop for 50 chickens and feeding them mainly bagged feed isn't exactly sustainable.
If becoming more skilled is your primary reason for homesteading, take classes, read books, talk to other homesteaders, and volunteer. Figure out what you like before you commit to a particular infrastructure.
Or, narrow your list to things that will help you build your skills. Setting up an aquaponic system teaches you about pumps, gravity-fed water system, raising fish, raising plants, managing minerals, and construction. With one activity, you can be challenged for months.
Charm and Simplicity
These are biggies for me even though I also homestead for all the above reasons. Raising animals and growing vegetables is not what I would call simple. When you are dealing with manure (A LOT!) and pests, it's not entirely charming either.
Growing herbs is what I do for charm and simplicity. Herbs are generally easy to grow. They can be edible, medicinal, or mind-altering (lavender take me away). Harvesting and preparing them makes me happy.
If you want charm and simplicity, then make infrastructure choices based on the kinds of activities that will make you feel at peace and inspired.
Crash Course in Homesteading
If you just want to dive in and get a crash course, try this.
- Choose one kind of livestock like chickens, rabbits, or mini-goats. Research and decide on their shelter, run area, and feed systems.
- Use your livestock manure to make compost and grow a small garden.
- Plant a couple of perennial food plots.
- Harvest water, in a pond or cisterns (rain barrels), and use for growing your garden.
- Put up a few solar panels for day use (e.g., with no batteries).
- Make yourself an outdoor wood-fired oven.
- Make sure everything you build can be moved to other locations later when you decide you want to scale up or add more activities.
Tip #4: Plan on Paper
Now that you've clarified your thinking on why you want to homestead and have some leads on how to do it, draw up your plan. With your limiting factors and wish list in mind, begin to make a map of how your homestead will look when you have everything in place.
Start with an unmarked aerial map or property plot. Pencil your plans on your map to scale. Here are some things to consider.
Site a kitchen garden near the door closest to your kitchen for easy access. Check if that location also has access to a hose bib that will make setting up a produce-washing station easy.
Even if you spend a lot of time with your livestock, situate their shelters a little distance from your house to control smells and sounds. Note, though, having them too far away might make them more prone to predation. Placing livestock just beyond your kitchen garden so that you can throw them excess produce, can work well.
Root cellars and underground greenhouses will be dependent mainly on where you can safely and legally dig. In non-rural areas, you are likely to need permits and plans. Things like soil quality and drainage will also be critical to your location.
We couldn't homestead without a place for all of our carpentry equipment and gardening tools. If you have a garage, that should do. If not, then plan a storage location for all your homesteading tools and materials.
If you plan to grow a lot of food, you may need more than a kitchen garden can supply. Planting areas used for mass production are usually sited in locations where the soil is most amenable to planting. You may also need to leave access for large deliveries of compost and manure if you are trying to grow organically.
Tip # 5: Try it Before You Buy It
Layout your areas before you start buying or building things. Use props to make a “to-scale mock-up” of your imagined homestead. Try to picture yourself using those spaces.
Does it feel right? Do you see problems with the space that you didn't consider when you put it on paper? Does it need to be bigger or smaller? Is something missing?
Anticipating challenges in the planning phase is a lot easier than having to make revisions later. You'll still make mistakes and change your mind as you gain more experience. Trust me, though; you'll make far fewer mistakes and save money and heartache with a little pre-planning.