Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Essentials for Getting Started with Homesteading

In October 1998 I purchased 300 acres of bush in a remote beautiful valley surrounded by thousands of square kilometres of state forest and national park. I knew almost nothing about growing food and little about land management. I had a basic interest in carpentry, permaculture and green issues and a desire to build my own house that had travelled with me when I emigrated from England eighteen months earlier.
The papers were exchanged and I was the proud owner of a slice of East Gippsland. Where to start? After wandering the property for some time to see its possibilities I decided that I couldn't start without three essential pieces of equipment.

1. A Trailer.
I bought a 7x4 box trailer. It has hauled building materials, firewood, rubbish, gravel and just about anything needed to set up a house, garden and orchards in a place where delivery is unheard of. It took a little while to learn how to park and reverse with it but that trailer has tailed my cars more often than not. There's always something to move with it.
I bought one with a gate at either end which makes it so much easier to lay long items flat in the tray without sticking too far out of the back. A long bar from the front of the trailer to the tow ball makes it easier to maneuver. I later had a jockey wheel welded to the front and can't imagine not having one.  
Trailer electrics are always a pain to keep working and it has been a long-running battle to stay legal. It has received a few dents and a new coat of paint but seventeen years later it was still tailing me up the mountain this morning with a load of firewood.

The Box trailer and the Chainsaw
2. A Chainsaw.
If your property has lots of trees and you wish to build with poles and collect firewood owning and mastering a chainsaw is a must. I have been great at the first but have struggled with the mastery. I enjoy what the chainsaw can do when it is working and despite a couple of close shaves have avoided the major catastrophes of which such a dangerous tool operated alone in a remote place can do. For a long time I found starting the saw a challenge and getting the sort of sharp edge needed escaped me.
It would have been worth investing in a chainsaw course as long as it covered maintenance and sharpening as well as technique. A recent purchase of an angled file has greatly improved my sharpening expertise.
I bought a Stihl and although somewhat battered from seventeen years of service it is still going strong. It was definitely worth the initial outlay and almost every town has a parts distributor. The length of the bar varies with the work to be undertaken. My choice of a 500mm bar allows a middle ground of reasonable sized trees with a flexibility and weight to undertake some finer work when using the saw to cut more accurately.

The black water tank collecting water from the Loft shed
3. A Water Tank
You can't grow food without water. When I hauled my new tank on my new trailer up onto the block I knew that wherever I put the tank down would become the heart of my property. I built a shed next to the tank to collect water for it and the garden and house had to be close to the tank and downhill. While this tank has been superceded by a much bigger tank in terms of daily use it is still part of the watering system that helps the caged vegetable garden survive in the hot summer months.
I chose a plastic tank as the lightest and safest to drink from. Plastic tanks are not so useful in bushfires but will survive as long as they are fairly full. This tank is smooth sided whereas most of the tanks I have bought since have been made of corrugated plastic which is stronger and gives more surface area.

There are many other items that may be vital to setting up a place to live and grow food from scratch but for me those three would be hard to live without.

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