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Site Planning for Your Survival Homestead

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from frequent contributor R. Ann Parris.  If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today!


A great deal can go into site planning for your survival homestead, even when the infrastructure is already in place and funds don’t exist to renovate lines or move buildings. Where we place things can increase or decrease our defensive abilities, success in growing, and how likely we are to see something – which can be good or bad. It can also hugely impact the efficiency of a site, whether it’s a small suburban or urban lot or a large rural retreat. While more space creates more options, planning for efficiency has major merits for any size site. When things are more efficient, they require less work to maintain. Whether that work is manual or powered, using less time, labor and resources frees up our abilities elsewhere, allowing us to do more.

Site Planning Factors for your survival homestead

The three most important factors in site planning for efficiency are arguably access, sun, and water. They are equally important, although when aspects like defense and drought resilience come into play one or another may take more precedence. There are variable levels of importance within factors as well. For example, access for ease and convenience might drop to the bottom of a list, but access for maintenance should stay near the top.

Cattle on silvopasture – Trees can be saw logs, firewood, forage/fodder or fruit and nut trees in a rotational pasture system that creates shade and stacks the functions taking place on a piece of land, creating a more efficient use of that land.

Cattle on silvopasture – Trees can be saw logs, firewood, forage/fodder or fruit and nut trees in a rotational pasture system that creates shade and stacks the functions taking place on a piece of land, creating a more efficient use of that land.

 

Sun

Sunlight plays a lot of roles in our lives, far more than just which plants will be successful – and where. Sunlight can be manipulated to create passive heating and cooling, such as using deciduous trees to shade greenhouses, coops, homes and windows, and livestock in silvopasture. Shading even just the entrance of a cellar can help dramatically reduce the amount of heat-cool transfer while loading it during harvest season. Shading can also significantly reduce moisture loss. On the flip side, opening canopies can not only increase availability of sunlight for plants during winter, it can help us dry up spring-bog areas and provide free lighting.

Using sun and shade to create passive heating and cooling by combining livestock and deciduous trees with a greenhouse, or locating coops and hutches beneath trees.

Using sun and shade to create passive heating and cooling by combining livestock and deciduous trees with a greenhouse, or locating coops and hutches beneath trees.

coops hutches under tree

 

When we look at shading, a lot of times we only look at trees, but buildings, fences, and walls come into play as well. One rule of thumb is to place the tallest things on a site to the north in the northern hemisphere, to allow the most light through. However, if we want that shading factor to limit our irrigation or keep our rabbits breeding longer without running fans, we can play with them, interspersing buildings and alleys of pasture to create the best fits for our needs.

Another school of thought – especially in areas heavy on buildings and trees – is to group tall things together and slope mature heights to create either a peak effect (tallest in a central area) or a valley effect (tallest things on the rims sloping down to the center).

All three have their pro’s and con’s, and the slope of land, amount of irrigation, soil types, and purposes or function of the land play a big role in deciding which works best for us.

sun-path

If you are building a survival homestead, take advantage of the sun’s natural path to position your home most effectively.

Something to remember is that sunlight changes through the year and by location, with summer and winter, extreme elevations, and distance from the equator affecting not only the track the sun takes in our skies, but also the intensity of the light – light quality, compared to light quantity. Even quantity comes with some wiggle room. “Full” sun is about 6-8 hours of direct light, but 8-10 hours of diffused light works too, unless the quality of light is low the way it is during winter in the middle and upper latitudes.

Water for your homestead

Water is one of the basic necessities of life. Manually hauling water sucks big time, and so does hand pumping water if mechanical systems fail. Ideally we plan our site so that things with the greatest volume needs are nearest the pumps and catchment systems.

When we’re accounting for high-volume needs we need to take into account our own varied uses such as laundry, cooking, and cleaning our homes as well as direct consumption. Livestock, young trees, and crops also require water. The closer they are to a water source, the less time and labor (of any kind, manual or mechanical) is needed to provide that water for them. We also want to bear in mind year-round needs, as opposed to seasonal like a garden with three months of growing season.

There are two types of water catchment systems that can decrease the need for pumping water – passive and active. Studying the sheep and cattle stations of the Australian outback, especially at the turn of the century, can provide a number of examples of how people survive near-desert conditions using active and passive water catchment systems.

water storage - swale system

Active catchment includes things like water barrels and buckets, which can be highly complex or pretty darn simple, or rain-filled water catchment on towers and roofs – both of which then disperse water through lines via gravity. Another example of an active catchment includes old-style towers that are filled by pumping, but then provide a gravity-fed reservoir for use during dry periods.

There are all kinds of passive water systems, some of them overlapping with the sunlight and wind vectors that we take into account as incoming and outgoing factors on a site. Some of the most common passive water-catchment and water-conservation systems include:

  • Simple low spots or dug swales that increase the infiltration of water by slowing its loss, making water available longer after a rain.
  • Ponds
  • Hugel-type, lasagna-type and Eden Gardening style growing beds with layers of material that absorb water and release it slowly
  • Gabion-style and stacked stone walls and fences that create drip-back microclimates by condensing evaporation on the underside and lee of the stone
  • Trees and shrubs planted to block and filter drying winds from the north and west or block sunlight and provide shade during the hottest hours (usually 1-4 p.m.)

Access

Arranging things for ready access is arguably the most important of the three factors, depending on the primary focus of site planning. At the simplest, we have to be able to reach things to use them. With some foresight and planning, we’re able to reach them in the most efficient and economical way(s) available to us. In the best case, things are conveniently near each other as well as just being accessible, saving time and work transferring them.

chicken moat

We can increase efficiency by locating things that need regular care close to our daily paths, like putting greenhouses and veggies near our homes. Alternatively, they could go near water sources, or be located beside chickens and pigs that till, turn compost, provide manure, and will be helping with garden clean-up. We don’t want to have to cross a yard to get tools and hoses and come all the way back to a garden plot, though.

When we plan the space we want to leave to facilitate access, we want to take into account our methods of reaching our targets:

  • walking with hand tools, with hay bales on hooks, with forks or bags of feed or seed or fertilizer, or with buckets, blickeys and crates
  • wheelbarrows, push or pull carts
  • tractor or ATV and attachments
  • truck or gators/field carts
  • tree pruning tools, branch removal or chipping (and chipper size and type)
  • firewood harvest methods
  • distance between storage and harvests of hay, straw or crops
  • type of brush control and access for it
  • longevity/sustainability of methods chosen for all phases (we all get old unless we die young, and what we can manage by now may become impossible due to age, illness or injury)

 

Tall hugelkultur beds increase our efficiency not only by decreasing water and fertilizer needs but also by increasing by 3-5 times the amount of growing space we have. Tall beds also eliminate some of the stooping involved with veggie gardens, creating longevity in our growing systems.

Tall hugelkultur beds increase our efficiency not only by decreasing water and fertilizer needs but also by increasing by 3-5 times the amount of growing space we have. Tall beds also eliminate some of the stooping involved with veggie gardens, creating longevity in our growing systems.

 

We also want to leave space for things like sorting, curing, drying, and curing harvests of various types, running our chipper-shredders, PM’g and repairing our equipment, and to get out of sight of nosy neighbors for livestock culling and harvest. Ideally, that space is conveniently located to the origin or destination, to water, and to where we collect and leave our tools for the tasks. Leaving room for living space and accounting for where we’re creating shadows, damper areas, windbreaks, open sight lines, and cover or concealment for thieves and worse as we plot out our sites is also important.

Something I’ve seen lower harvests in both small-scale and large-scale is somebody cutting a corner with a wagon or tractor a little too close and wrecking the end of a row, or having room when everything is small and new or just seeded, but having no room to maneuver once perennials or large crops grow in. Paying mind to the turning radius of our chosen methods can help save those. (So can practicing when a field is still empty.)

The general rule of thumb when planning for access is that things that need the least care go farthest away and off beaten paths, while things that need the most care and attention go nearest the living space(s) and along walkways.

Our own needs and desires and our infrastructure plays into where we might stick things. I may not use my shop much, but it may be easier to run power to it if it’s close to the house and since my trucks are near the house, I may not want to cross an acre or two for my air pump. Fruit and nut trees traditionally go further away from my home since they don’t need daily care, but if I’m using them for passive heating and cooling or am stacking the productivity of the space by keeping birds or rabbits under them, I may want them closer. My soil type and spring bog might also lead me to avoid an area that would be considered prime, or I might choose to locate things further away so I have a yard space where I can see my young kids easily from a window. Everyone’s situation is different.

Convenience factors into access – The easier it is to reach and see something, the more likely we are to deal with it. There’s no reason not to put veggie beds near the house even in a large yard, or to incorporate herbs and veggies into traditional flowers and landscaping along our driveway and footpaths.

Convenience factors into access – The easier it is to reach and see something, the more likely we are to deal with it. There’s no reason not to put veggie beds near the house even in a large yard, or to incorporate herbs and veggies into traditional flowers and landscaping along our driveway and footpaths.

 

Convenience should also play a role when it comes to access, and for some people the convenience is more important than for others. If it’s difficult to get to something, most of us are less likely to deal with it. It’s up to us to accurately judge ourselves and decide how likely we are to ignore or procrastinate with chores and checks.

Likewise, the “out of sight, out of mind” factor plays a role. Not only are we more likely to remember that something needs dealt with if we’re seeing it every morning on the way out, we can also arrange things to serve as canaries in a mineshaft for us.

Planning & Efficiency

Planning is a big part of efficiency – with anything, military excursion to home to garden to daily tasks. As a permaculturist, efficiency is basically my Holy Grail. The interactions of biotic and abiotic factors get manipulated to death to allow nature to do a lot of our work for us and to limit the time and effort of our labors.

site planning - start with sketch of what already exists

It’s helpful to start with sketches of what already exists on a site, what is staying and what can go, and the inputs from the surrounding area when planning for an efficient site. Permaculture zones and sectors are excellent research points for anyone just starting out.

Wasted steps are wasted time and wasted energy, no matter what scale we’re living and growing in, just like allowing runoff, sunlight, and wind to enter and exit a space without ever harnessing them. In some cases, poor site planning ends up costing us extra money when we upgrade, downsize, or need a repair.

We can limit some of our inefficiency just by making lists.

Lists start as big, general goals of our wants and needs. We can make other lists of our potential resources, challenges, and capabilities. In the case of our homestead – urban balcony to 5-50 acre farm – knowing our long-term goals lets us start accounting for them from the get-go. Lists also help us streamline and prioritize, which allows us to stay focused.

We can refer back to our lists as we approach each step in making our goal a reality. Likewise, sketching a plan and making lists of the pro’s and con’s of placing various components where we have can give us a guideline to refer back to as we move forward over months and years. Lists and a sketch can keep us from feeling hemmed in to a decision we made five years ago because we didn’t realize what a pain it was going to be to haul water 500 yards because the hose pressure won’t reach the spot where we put in our annuals.

Increasing efficiency can be as fast and simple as putting coops and hutches over compost and worm bins to decrease some of the back-and-forth steps of moving manure to those systems and being able to check levels and moisture and harvest worms at the same time we care for other livestock.

Increasing efficiency can be as fast and simple as putting coops and hutches over compost and worm bins to decrease some of the back-and-forth steps of moving manure to those systems and being able to check levels and moisture and harvest worms at the same time we care for other livestock.

 

Planning for Efficiency for your Survival Homestead

Water, sun and access are just the tip of the iceberg for site planning. There are dozens and dozens of things that can factor into creating an efficient self-sustaining homestead. People have written books on the subject, and placement considerations – from the things we’re possibly going to want on location to how we decide where to put them – occupy week-long lectures. Particularly when it comes to access.

Another aspect of efficiency we don’t regularly want to consider is old age, if not a Seventh Generation outlook. How much annual care does what we’re putting in need? Will it start spreading beyond our control when we hit cane and walker age? Will that oak destroy the lawn between the house and “yard” in 10 years, leaving dogs and people ginger stepping 8-12 times a day and washing away good soils? Will those coppiced trees start wrecking fences if we’re injured or busy standing watch?

Most of us just can’t plan for everything, but at least being aware of goals, of some of the factors that affect our efficiency and the long-term effects of inefficiency, and of the priority we’re willing to assign components in and around our homes, we can be better prepared for smooth transitions and limit some of our wasted labor. Being aware of site planning and efficiency as something to research allows us to let the environment around us and that we build do some of our work for us.

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  • M. “Wyatt” Howell

    Thank you, Prepper Journal…This information is invaluable and can help us defend ourselves. Even as former military, I have learned so much from the many other ideas that are shared here. You are appreciated.

  • Diaspora

    Good stuff. Do you have any advice on starting up with small livestock like chickens and rabbits?

    • R. Ann

      Wow – Each of those is an article on their own. TPJ does have some if you search at the bar. You can also find a ton of information from the “Chicken Chick” online. Check local regs about chickens especially (rabbits can be done in an apartment, no problem).

      They ARE where I would start for livestock, but start small. Plan space for larger flocks if inclined, but learn on 3-5 at a time.

      Be careful with bunnies especially and start with only one litter. Same goes with chickens – get a few, and hold off on breeding and raising nests for a while. Make sure you (and family if they apply) can handle raising and slaughtering something cute, especially rabbits. When the backyard egg fad first resurfaced, ASPCAs ended up overwhelmed with birds that were past their laying prime because people couldn’t/wouldn’t kill them on their own. I know one guy with an ever-expanding flock because his wife and kids like his chickens, and another woman whose husband keeps deciding that their animals are going to be breeders instead of slaughtering them as planned. They can both multiply fast, so be sure before you end up with a dozen and a half mouths to feed.

      The other thing I will say is to make the enclosures MORE predator proof than you think you need, and have all enclosures ready BEFORE they get there, with any livestock.

      Some people really like chickens and they’re chill and calm like Martha Stewart’s. I bring out the dinosaur blood in chickens, personally. 🙂 (Any chickens.) Jump online for the chicken & rabbit forums and see if there’s anybody near you who will let you come visit – just for breeds, for egg gathering, for culling and skinning/plucking and butchering.

      Good luck!

      • Great comments R.Ann.

        Oddly enough, I just butchered three roosters this morning. It was my first experience – somehow we were lucky with our last two batches to have only hens. It is the unsaid benefit/chore/burden that comes with raising any animal I think. You have to take care of it all the way. For pets that means one thing. For livestock, if you plan on raising food, you need to experience turning that fluffy thing that you raised from a baby into meat for the table.

        • R. Ann

          Forgive me if you already checked this box:
          Age your roos just like you would an old layer or hare unless they are tiny, tender, 2-mo old niblets, boss man.
          There are lots of ways to do it, with more and less work and time involved, but it makes a huge difference in chew texture and flavor, even slow-stewed for soup or dumplings.

          And on a different tangent:
          That’s a phenomenal run of luck, boss man.

          WHERE are you getting your chicks (“local” or online supplier)? Are they supposed to be sexed (accidents happen-always) or are they straight run that came in lucky chicas?

          🙂
          Cheers and happy nom-noms!

          • BobW

            A word of caution for those considering chickens and/or rabbits. Plan for the coop to be far more work than you thought it would. Building a good chicken coop was a lot more work, time, and materials than I expected.

            Start building it in the garage/barn during the winter, then move the major parts to the proper location and assemble.

            I built a Wichita-style coop from six build pictures I found on the internet. It went together decently, but took a lot more time figuring some things out, with a few more features still to be done.

            I started with 8 Rhode Island red hens, and due to predation (stupid dog), and um…starvation by the person feeding them over a long weekend, am down to 6.

            Maintenance is less than 10 minutes per day. Check that waterer twice a day during the hot months.

            • R. Ann

              “Back to Basics” and the Mother Earth News site both have some nice coop designs.
              The right coop also depends on how you plan to keep chickens.

              If birds are routinely in the same area and you’re not after mining that area for their black gold, you may find it worthwhile to set up some graze boxes/graze frames (or a bunch of them), seed them with tolerant weeds and old garden seeds, create tub for dust baths (roadside pickup drawer or storage tote), and then deeply mulch all around the frames.
              Even start with deep layers of pine needles and dead leaves if you don’t have a tree trimming service that chips and drops for free.
              It can make a difference in smell and in cruising through the yard, and keeping birds clean instead of muddy.
              It also gives them something to do (they scratch through the mulches for interesting tidbits). Less-bored chooks are less likely to turn on each other or other inhabitants.
              If you’re tractoring or going with a nighttime shut-in with a rotating pasture bird fence or a permanent woods alley setup, the graze boxes and mulching aren’t as important.

              Depending on location and where they’ll be kept, humane and animal-friendly rabbit hutches can be made or modified from other things (free things) relatively cheaply and easily.

              Good luck!

    • R. Ann

      Backwoods Home was in my mailbox this morning, and they have an AWESOME article on egg faults. If you’re looking into eggs (any kind), you might either pick up a copy and note it in your references or run over to the site and see if it’s there to be printed this month (they don’t post all articles and they don’t leave articles up after the next issue).

      They also have a goat article and a bunch of cheesemaking tips and recipes and a DIY press that we’ll be replicating soon, so if you don’t have a subscription, this would be a great one to pick up as somebody just getting into livestock.

      Cheers!
      -Rebecca Ann

    • Arcangel911

      There are too many articles on here to name for that….. but if you want a good book… I recommend Storey’s Country Wisdom. They have great flyers that are packed with good and great tips.