You did it! You’ve purchased the property of your dreams and you’re ready to dive head-first into homesteading! If you’re still trying to find the perfect property you can check out my tips on that here. You have visions of a cute little farmhouse overlooking pastures of animals. Maybe a vegetable garden in the back, surrounded by orchards of trees. At least this was me when we purchased our 30 acres. I was quickly overwhelmed with how on earth we were going to get to that end goal. It was daunting, to say the least. I plan to have an entire series of posts dedicated to sharing the process of developing your homestead from start to finish, but this post is going to cover Phase I. It will detail the steps necessary to develop the land enough to make it livable and ready for Phase II and III. I also include lists of the necessary tools needed to do it.
Developing a Plan
Step one for any homesteader should be developing your land enough so that it is ready for a home for yourself and will support your animals.
The best piece of advice we received when starting out was to break our goals into small manageable parts. This is sound advice for anyone trying to develop land because it will give you a realistic timeline. Not only that, but it will also make the entire process seem less overwhelming. Here’s our list of goals for each of our 3 part homestead development plan. As I said, this post will cover Phase I so make sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss posts about phase II and III.
- Clear the Land of Heavy Brush and Weeds
- Pick a Homesite/Contract with a Builder
- Construction Road
- Perimeter Fence
- Home Construction
- Road Completion
- Entry Gate
CLEARING THE LAND
Depending on the composition of your land, this can by far be the most daunting task of Phase I. At least it was for us because of the massive amounts of huisache (more on this thorny little jerk later) and weeds we had growing on the property. Here is a Basic List of tools you’ll need to complete this step.
- Chains for towing
- Brush Cutter (not necessary but very useful for thick brush)
- Tractor for shredding/mowing/towing
Luckily, the person we purchased our land from had done a really good job clearing the pastures of brush before we purchased it, but we still had quite the job ahead of us fighting back overgrown weeds enough that we could even walk on it.
The very first thing we did was spend a weekend shredding down the grass and weeds using a Kabota tractor with a 15-foot rotary cutter. This allowed us to actually see the land and what we were working with. Once this was complete, we were able to make a plan for clearing any remaining brush and trees that needed to be cleared.
In our area, huisache will take over a pasture if it isn’t managed. It’s a thorny scrubby plant that starts out as a crawling vine, but can quickly become a large thorny tree if it is left unchecked.
We were dealing with 30 acres of these little vines every few feet. The two most effective ways of getting rid of it are digging it up at the root or using a mixture or Remedy and diesel to kill it. Using organic, sustainable products in our pasture and garden is something that is incredibly important to me. Because of this, I immediately rejected the idea of using a harsh herbicide like Remedy. Unfortunately, after consulting with several experts, including someone from the Texan A&M Agrilife Research center, we realized that was the only way we were ever going to be able to get it under control. We decided to follow the brush buster method detailed here, in one big sweep in order to get it all at once. This way, we are only exposing our pastures to a harsh herbicide once and can manage small patches that pop up later on.
Once our land was shredded and weed free, we could finally walk and drive it with our Ranger without the risk of flat tires or thorns through the shoe. Ask me how I know about thorn injuries. Like a said, huisache is a little jerk.
Trees and Underbrush
Finally, we went through and cleared the underbrush and trees from any areas where we knew we would want or need a structure. This is also a good time to scout for dead trees that are rotting and could be dangerous when falling. We had a massive tree fall across our creek cut-through that we walk along often to get to the back pasture. Thankfully no one was there at the time but we definitely went on the hunt for anymore potentially dangerous trees after this. For this last step of clearing, we used machetes and chainsaws to take out the scrubby underbrush and trees. We then used the tractor to haul the cut logs and brush into one designated burn pile.
Overall, clearing and cleaning up the land took 3 months’ worth of weekends to complete. Had we hired someone to do it, we could have had it done in a few days but it’s important for us to do as much as we can on our own. The end goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible so when we have the capability to tackle a project, we do as much as we can ourselves.
PICKING A HOMESITE
Once the land was cleared and mowed, we were able to finally see the landscape of our property and pick a place for our homesite. There are many factors that go into this decision that you’ll need to consider. I could write pages and pages when it comes to every little detail but here are the main considerations.
- Cost of bringing utilities to the home
- How level is the site?
- Directional Needs
Cost of Utilities
When we were deciding where to build our homesite, I was completely sold on the highest hill near the back fence of our property. When we did the math and realized it would be upwards of twelve thousand dollars to extend the power lines that far, we very quickly scrapped that idea. Not only that, but the cost of building our road from the front gate to our homesite made it cost prohibitive as well. We would have needed a culvert to keep the road from washing out in a low spot. The cost of materials to build our road would have eaten up a lot of our budget.
While I was a little sad to give up on the view that hill offered, we still had several options to pick from and ended up with a beautiful spot overlooking our meadow and the gentle rolling hills.
Ultimately, you want to be completely happy with where you choose to build your home. Just be aware of the extra utility costs you might incur when you’re scouting a location.
How Level is the Area
This was one consideration that really blindsided us. Thankfully, by the time we were choosing a homesite, we had already contracted with a builder and were working on our home plans. He let us know that if the footprint of our house was out of level more than a few feet, it would drastically increase the cost of our foundation. That little hill in the back would have put us 10 feet out of level from one corner of the house to the other. That carried a price tag of over twenty thousand in foundation cost. When the builder staked out our final homesite, we were just a few feet out of level which put us at a much more reasonable final cost in that area.
Many people reminded me that homes can be built anywhere including the side of a mountain. However, for us, it was best for us to choose a hill with a nice flat spot on it. This allowed us to avoid the cost and hassle of figuring out how to build on a predominantly uneven surface.
This one is pretty self explanatory. How do you want to orient your house relative to the sun and weather blowing in? For us, we chose to have our front door facing North so that we could avoid afternoon sun coming from the West on our back patio. This is where we spend most of our time in the afternoon and evenings watching the kids play. If you live in a cooler climate, this may not be an issue for you but here in Texas, that 4 o’clock afternoon sun is hot!
Before you can move to phase II, which is building your house, you need to have a road in place for construction vehicles to deliver the material to your homesite. Keep in mind that these heavy vehicles will likely cause light damage to the road, so we chose to install a rough gravel road until all of the construction is done. We used pit run gravel to form the base of the road and will come back in with 1/2” screened gravel on top to finish it out once construction is complete.
You will have to have the power company to come out and have poles and power lines installed if it isn’t already on your land. For us, we needed to bring power from an existing pole about 600 feet away. Once the pole is near your house, you can either bury the line all the way up to your home, our you can slack the line overhead to your home. Be aware that it is more expensive to bury the line.
All power companies are different so be sure to contact your local provider to get a quote and see what their requirements are! Our power company required us to clear a 30 foot path of trees in order to bring the line to us. This was something that took several weekends to do but again, it can be hired out if you choose.
Some land has access to city water and if that is the case, you won’t need to worry about a well. If you don’t have access, then you will need to install a well before you can begin construction or bring animals to the property. It is best to get it installed after power so that your well can be tested and hooked up to your power source. Otherwise, you’ll have to bring an electrician out to complete the setup. With your well in place, your builder can then connect your main water line to the well after the foundation is poured. Get several quotes on this because the prices can vary widely.
Keep in mind that if you want to have animals, you will have to have a completed perimeter fence. There are countless options when it comes to fencing, but these are the tools you will need to install and fix fencing yourself.
- Post Hole Digger
- Fencing Pliers
- Tamping Device
- Post Level
- Tape Measure
You want your perimeter fence to be nice and sturdy, especially if you plan to have cows or horses. Our perimeter fence is a five rail barbed wire fence with 10 foot spacing between posts. Some day I would love to have a split rail wooden fence around the perimeter but, it’s not in the budget right now. Once this project is completed I’ll do an entire post about all of our fencing but for now, this is a good place to start!
Once you have these basics completed, you’ll have a solid foundation for the construction of your home and everything else on your homestead.
Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don’t miss updates on phases II and III. I can’t wait for you all to see our home design!