Got a small property, or perhaps a 1 acre mini-farm? Here's a few micro farming ideas based on my experiences at New Terra Farm. Let's suppose you've got about an acre of land to live on and operate your micro farm. What would a 21st century homesteader REALLY need to be successful on this farm?
First, a little context. The old-fashioned homestead was often a hard-scrabble place; subsistence farming left little time for anything else. While self-sufficiency is all well and good, there are still only 24 hours in a day. So you need to think about time and labour requirements for the various crops your farm might grow.
And you need to think synergistically i.e. grow complementary crops that don't compete for your attention all at the same time. And if you can grow multi-purpose crops, or perennial crops, that's even better.
I also recommend against breeding stock on a small place; it's hard to justify keeping breeding stock year-round if you have to buy in most of their feed.
So, what micro farming ideas would I consider to start? Here's a few typical small farm enterprises that I believe have real potential for the 1 acre farm.
An organic market garden. I like this one because it's 'scalable'; that is, you can start small and make a profit (by feeding yourself and a couple neighbours VERY well), and it can be expanded as your experience and resources grow. And if you follow the Community Supported Agriculture model (my recommendation) your start-up costs can be very low, and your CSA customers provide a market for your other farm goodies.
Laying hens. Raising chickens for free-range organic eggs can be a profitable small farm business. Farms in my area sell their eggs for up to $5/dozen, and they are always sold out. And when the 'girls' are finished their useful laying life, they can be sold as stewing hens, or made into very tasty chicken stock (for yourself or for sale.)
Raising chickens for meat. Raising meat chickens is a quick-turnaround business. About 11 or 12 weeks from day-old chicks to 5-lb roasters, and you have a return on your investment. You can also rotate the birds through your garden area and fields; they will improve both.
Perennial crops. I think the 1
acre farm should definitely dedicate some space to perennial crops. Here
again you need to think in terms of reducing labour requirements. For
example, I would plant blackberries rather than raspberries. Less suckering will occur, and therefore less thinning is required.
Asparagus is a good choice for some early income; a good bed will last 20 or more years, and it always sells out at the market. Another possibility is table grapes; I have a friend that grows about 12 varieties that do well here in the Great White North so you can probably find a variety adapted to your area. While grape vines do require pruning, the cuttings can be rooted to produce more vines (and another crop for you.)
Tree fruit. Tree fruit is another good micro farming idea, if you stay away from varieties that need excessive pruning or spraying.
For example, we're looking into Asian pears right now, They produce quicker than apples, and are pretty much immune to pests in my area. Note that tree crops and vine crops like grapes can be planted on fence lines where they won't interfere too much with your other crops.
I also planted one paddock with
hazelnuts. They are planted on 10 foot centres, in rows 25 feet apart.
This spacing means I can pasture chickens or pigs between the rows (in
electric net pens)
A backyard nursery can be a profitable home-based business for the new grower or would-be small farmer. Learn the ropes here Start a backyard nursery
Of course, it would be difficult to learn how to manage all these crops at once. Pick a 'centre-piece' crop from the micro farming ideas above, and build the others around it as your experience grows. It's very possible to integrate 8 or 10 crops on a one acre farm.
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