The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Difficulty levels of self-sufficiency

You may have already posted on this but is there a list somewhere from easiest to most difficult (or maybe a scale of degree of difficulty) in terms of being completely self-sufficient? For example, growing veggies (varies between easy and medium), growing fruit tress (medium), producing your own oil from seeds (medium), producing all your own energy (difficult).
--- J

Difficulty level of self-sufficiency tasksI've put off answering this question for a long time since it's far more tricky than it at first appears.  In general, I think there are three axes of homesteading difficulty --- skills you have to learn, time spent either mastering the concept or on daily upkeep, and money spent on the project.  For me, growing my own vegetables can't be termed difficult because I have an affinity to plants, but it is certainly time consuming.  I actually think that fruit trees are easier than vegetables, but since you sometimes have to wait as much as a decade for them to bear fruit, the learning curve takes longer and the time itself might put them in the "difficult" category (even though annual time spent on upkeep of the orchard would drop them back down to "easy.")  Producing all of your own energy isn't hard if you buy a pre-made system, but the financial cost is certainly steep.  If I added up an estimated difficulty on each of the three axes, I might come up with the list below, starting with "easy" tasks and running up to "hard" ones:

  1. Water
  2. Fruit
  3. Heat
  4. Grains
  5. Vegetables
  6. Oil
  7. Meat
  8. Electricity
  9. Milk

Strider on my lapBut then I got even more bogged down with the concept of self-sufficiency.  To be truly self-sufficent, I'd have to add hundreds of items to the list above, and I don't know that I necessarily want to spend weeks making a pair of shoes just so that I can say I'm entirely self-sufficient.  Lately, I've been feeling like our true goal is not self-sufficiency but happiness --- by living simply enough and meeting many of our own needs, we can eat food that makes us feel good and have time left over to pour into our friends, family, and hobbies.  Perhaps the most difficult task on the homesteader's list is finding the balance between doing it all yourself and enjoying the journey --- finding balance.

Our homemade chicken waterer certainly makes one part of the homesteading spectrum easier, saving some homesteaders hours per week.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It's an interesting thing to ponder, and definitely made complicated by the fact that different homestead activities make different demands on the homesteader.

Some things demand lots of time, others demand less time but are very strict on the regularity (e.g. milking), some require skill, some meat-head strength. So the ranking of "hardness" is going to be a very individual thing.

But then, that's what develops a local economy, isn't it? I find soap-making hard (or time-consuming, or frustrating, or whatever) so it ranks high for me. You find cheesemaking fiddly and difficult. So we trade soap for cheese and everybody's happy, not having to spend so much time on the stuff we personally find difficult.

That's why I think total self-sufficiency is not the goal. It's good to be inter-dependent to some extent.

Oh, and on your list I'd change "meat" to "meat and eggs", since nearly all homesteaders start with eggs before moving on to meat. Then there are subcategories within each of those categories - for "meat and eggs", there's eggs, small animal meat (chickens, rabbits, squab), medium animals (lambs, goats), large animals (pigs, cows), hunting, trapping, fishing, etc.

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Mon Dec 20 17:19:01 2010

More thoughts, in a different vein:

Has anyone ever seen a book that guides the reader into homesteading step-by-step? Kind of like a "teach yourself in 30 days" type book, but obviously over a longer time period :-).

It might start with basic things like stockpiling food, buying in bulk, buying in season and preserving, breadmaking, etc and then lead into getting chickens for eggs, raising chicks, killing and butchering your first chicken, raising meat chicks, and so on. Interleaved in that would be vegetable gardening (using the chickens as tillers and a source of fertiliser), basic construction (building chickens coops and runs), planting fruit trees, etc.

Basically everything would be broken down into mini projects, where each project builds on the skills and experiences gained in previous projects, and in turn dove-tails with the other projects already under way (e.g. the above-mentioned benefits of combining chickens with vegetable growing).

I think this style of book would be an interesting read, and would probably appeal to the person who asked the original question, although every homestead is different so you might not follow the exact same path through the projects (and would no doubt leave some out altogether).

I'd love to find out if such a book exists!

Comment by Darren (Green Change) Mon Dec 20 18:16:23 2010

Awesome, thanks for getting back to this question! Finding the people to start out with is hardest! I'm a woman on my own and ideally I'd like to buy and start homesteading with two or three other people -- that's the dream, and it's based on what the other reader was saying about being interdependent and trading skills and helping each other out.

I'm worried about the long term availability of water, and also the cost of gas (if I'm far away from settled areas...) I've been paying attention to places / people working on biofuel but again, I need others to specialize in different things!

Comment by J Tue Dec 21 03:04:39 2010

I love the thought-provoking comments on this post, especially Darren's point that difficulty is highly individual and that if you build a local economy, you can do the things you find easy and trade for the things others find easy.

Good point about meat and eggs. Even though they're really interrelated when done right, I think I'd probably split eggs out and put them right after heat on the list. And I'm not sure why I didn't put honey on there... :-)

I haven't read a book like the one you mention --- might be a good one for you to write! Actually, I could see a book like that instead being an interactive website, a bit like those old choose your own adventure books I read when I was a kid, which would let you tweak the projects to fit your farm and life. People could pay to use it just like they would pay to download an ebook, but their payment would just put them into the password-protected part of a website. (You might actually team up with Everett on this --- he's the one who suggested that model for an ebook to me.) Actually, I think I'm going to send you both an email introducing you...

J --- Sorry it took me so long to get around to answering it --- I hope you didn't think I'd forgotten about your question. It just took some serious mulling over.

Mark and I go back and forth on the merits of communities like the one you're envisioning. We tend to feel like it's better to have your own independence, and to just build community around you. Clearly, you just need to come buy a farm in our neck of the woods --- no worries about water here, and we're actively looking for someone to fill the niches in our homesteading independence that we're not willing to leap into (milk and red meat, at the moment.)

Comment by anna Tue Dec 21 08:58:16 2010

Sounds to me like your talking about the Blog Archive right here. With the search engine supplied and the interactive comments, this is one of the best online sources out there.

Anna and Mark aside, there are great knowledgeable and inventive people posting here. I might suggest adding a forum section to the website, to make others feel more open to adding opinions and asking questions.

Anna and Mark, here is a big think you for all of the info and experiences I have "borrowed" from you. Don't blush, ya'll are worthy of the praise.

Comment by Erich Tue Dec 21 11:08:04 2010

Erich --- I totally agree with you about the value of the comments. We seem to accumulate the world's best commenters! Someday I might try to figure out how to add a forum, but I'm not sure I want to spend that much time keeping people in line --- forums seem to turn into a bit of a free for all if they don't have a good moderator.

I appreciate your kind words about the blog too. :-) Feel free to "borrow" anything you want!

Comment by anna Tue Dec 21 19:49:52 2010

I LOVE this post! We're just starting on our journey towards homesteading and self-sufficiency, so it's easy to get overwhelmed by all the information out there and all the different directions you can go. When you're starting from scratch, sometimes it's just best to go one step at a time, pick something that's within your grasp (and knowledge and skill set and time available and budget), and run with it. I find that the first step is often the hardest. Once you get going, and you start to see success, it's easier to tackle the next project.

I love the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure website or book! And if anyone does know of a book like Darren mentioned, I would be the first in line to buy it.

Comment by Emma Wed Dec 22 13:05:41 2010

I know what you mean about being overwhelmed when you start --- it's far to easy to bite off more than you can chew and then give up. But it looks like you're on the right track, going one step at a time.

I couldn't seem to talk Everett and Darren into writing that ebook --- drat! :-) Might have to write it myself...

Comment by anna Wed Dec 22 14:31:52 2010

I love this post! Thanks for keeping up on the blogs, even in your own absence. Have a good winter, friends--


Comment by Trav Williams Fri Dec 24 13:45:25 2010
It was great to hear from you, and we're looking forward to reading your book. We're also excited that you settled in Asheville (at least for the time being) --- maybe we can meet in the middle sometime soon?
Comment by anna Fri Dec 24 19:27:07 2010

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