For years now my husband and I have talked about buying a house with lots of land to start our homestead. We wanted acres and acres for cows, chickens, maybe a few more animals, a barn, and a garden.
The Search Begins
Finally, we were ready to jump in. We had just finished a 4-year stint in Raleigh, NC, in a tiny townhome, while my husband finished his PhD in computer science. We were planning to move back to the Greenville, SC, area so that my husband could continue his teaching job that he’d been on a leave of absence from.
I’m the daughter of a real-estate investor and love real estate, so I eagerly started house shopping… And then the great home-buying frenzy of 2021 began. All of a sudden, we couldn’t find anything that met our search criteria within our budget, and on the rare occasion that such a house came on the market, it was snatched up almost instantly.
A Brief Interlude
In the end we decided to rent for a year and take the house hunt a little slower. My sister found us a rental within walking distance of her house in a growing downtown area.
We were just sort of casually looking when something came on the market that looked promising. We decided to make an offer, but there were a few things about it that made us nervous. So we low-balled our offer and got outbid by only about 5k, if I remember correctly.
After we got outbid, we decided to change tactics and just look for an investment property to rent out for a little extra income while we were still renting our own home.
Shortly after that, Jordan’s parents told us that the house across the street from them was going to go on the market soon. We talked to the owner, walked through, and made an as-is offer before any repairs.
The seller accepted. Great! We have our rental! And the location is really convenient because Jordan’s parents are right there.
Everything is rolling along just fine. Our lender tells us our numbers look good and he’s going to get the process moving…And then he calls us and says, “Never mind. The lending regulations say you can’t buy an investment property if you don’t own your primary residence.”
This Is Not the Land You are Looking For…
So our hand was forced. We had to either walk away from the contract or change directions and buy it as our primary residence.
All of a sudden we went from looking for 5 or more acres of land for our mini farm to .18 acres in a tiny subdivision that’s just barely rural. It’s not the land we wanted, but we DID want to be close to Jordan’s parents, so we thought we’d better just buy it.
I had very mixed feelings about the decision.
On the one hand I knew it would be great to be neighbors with the grandparents, and it would force me to get better at other aspects of homesteading (like gardening in a tiny lot). On the other hand, we wouldn’t be able to have the animals we wanted, we would no longer be within walking distance of my sister, and we’d miss the area we were living in.
I felt like the situation had to be providential, though, because we never would have made an offer if we’d still been looking for a primary residence.
And that is how we ended up accidentally buying a house.
How We Are Turning Our Tiny Lot Into a Homestead
When we found out we were going to buy this house, I posted in a homesteading Facebook group, kind of desperate to figure out what was even possible on less than a quarter acre.
.18 acre felt like NOTHING when we had been looking for at least 5 acres.
Someone who commented on that post recommended I read Joel Salatin’s book You Can Farm, and I’m so glad they did. It was a huge encouragement to me that so much is possible when you’re determined to make it happen.
A point Salatin made that’s stuck with me every time I get discouraged and want more is this: he said, max out the capabilities of wherever you are before you even think about going bigger. If you can’t make it happen in a small space, how can you ever expect to be able to handle the responsibility of a larger place?
It’s like the parable of the ten talents that Jesus told in Matthew 25. It was not until the master saw how faithful his servants were with what he gave them that he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
So we are seeking to be faithful with the little.
Before I read Salatin’s book, I had been afraid to put in too much effort if we’d move on someday. But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it’s ok (and even desirable) to leave the land better for someone else. To plant trees I may never enjoy the shade of.
We do, however, expect to be here for the longterm since my husband’s parents are here, and as an only child he wants to be the one to care for his parents as they age.
So I keep thinking of ways I can do more where we are, and honestly, there’s still so much we can do in this tiny backyard.
What We’ve Done With Our Small Space
So far we’ve added chickens, goats, and gardens. Here’s how.
We started by clearing a huge amount of overgrowth from the back half of our backyard and installed a chicken yard. We now have 25 hens and 2 roosters living their best life, scratching up bugs and turning them into an abundance of eggs for us.
We also purchased a portable “chicken tractor” from some homesteading friends for a batch of meat birds that we processed last year.
The meat bird experience was interesting… I’m actually not really a fan of the Cornish Cross that is typically used for meat.
So I’m in the process of learning to breed American Bresse chickens, which are a dual-purpose bird. The variety of Bresse that was imported to the US comes from the French meat-bird line, so they’re supposed to produce a nice, large carcass. And their laying is decent too.
I’ve read a whole bunch of permaculture gardening books; one of the most helpful is Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. It has some really great ideas for making permaculture work in a variety of spaces.
We have pretty poor soil to work with, but with lots of hard work and using ideas from these resources as a guide, we built four garden beds.
I’m still learning how to really grow plants, but this year we had a decent pepper and cucumber harvest. And next year we’ll get to eat our asparagus.
I’m also really excited about the blackberry bushes I planted along the chicken fence. They are growing like crazy! Must be all the fertility from the chickens.
In addition, I pulled out the front yard landscaping and put in blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.
In August (shortly after our fourth child was born in July), we bought two female Nigerian Dwarf goats. One of them is in milk, producing about 2 cups a day, and the other is supposed to have babies in the middle of December.
I was honestly really nervous about getting goats for milk, because I thought it was going to taste “goaty.” But their fresh, raw milk is so sweet and delicious. It makes me think of ice cream.
I’m not usually one to drink milk, but even I like it.
Initially we were planning on setting up housing for them with the chickens, and it would have worked since we have about 1500 square feet there.
But as it happened, we were able to acquire a little more land.
Ways to Get Access to More Land
There are ways to get access to more land without moving.
Buying More Land
When we first moved here, I noticed that the back portion of the lot behind us appeared to be unused. There was a trailer on it, but no one seemed to live there. I began to pray that we would be able to buy that lot.
Fast forward a year or so, and I noticed a dumpster being delivered to the property. We went and talked to the people cleaning out the house, and long story short, we were able to get them to subdivide off a half acre where we’re now keeping goats.
Or it may be renting a piece of otherwise unused land. Maybe you even have friends with more space who’d let you do something on their property.
A Homesteader is Someone with a Homestead
Homesteading is not just about having acres upon acres of land with cows, chickens, and huge gardens.
It’s about becoming more sustainable right where you are. It’s about being creative and finding ways to make your existing location yield more than you ever realized was possible.
Go watch some YouTube videos about gardening on a small lot and you will walk away incredibly inspired.
It’s amazing what you can do in a small space.