Homesteading for Vandwellers
For Those with Itchy Feet and a Green Thumb
By Shawn the Rabbit Tamer
Editor’s Note: At first it may seem odd to find an article on homesteading on a vandwelling website, but I know two different vandwellers who own cheap land in Texas, and several more who are actively looking for land in Nevada or somewhere in the southwest. Owning a piece of land has many advantages for a vandweller:
- It gives you a real, permanent address–which is becoming more important in this security conscious world.
- It gives you a place to store your excess stuff.
- If some emergency should arise, you have a port in the storm.
- If you get tired of the road, you just go “home.”
- Most vandwellers who choose to have land get it in the desert, which is easy to buy very cheap off eBay.com. Often, they spend their winters in the desert on their very own land.
Homesteading is a logical extension of the home-base idea. Just like many of us have “itchy feet” and are compelled to travel, others have a “green thumb” and are compelled to garden and grow things in the earth. This article is for the person who has both itchy feet and a green thumb. – Bob Wells
If you have found the courage to live in a vehicle, and the ambition to “work camp” your life no-doubt is very simple and very rewarding. At this point, you may find you have an abundance of money and you might feel the need for a place to call your own.
Homesteading can be carried out in a couple of ways, you can either buy a piece of land, or you can live on public land. Both have their benefits and draw backs (as does stealth camping). Homesteading on public lands seems to be increasingly necessary in this environment. However, in most states, improvements on public lands (such as a water well) is greatly discouraged to down right illegal, and as a rule of thumb, most public lands are uninhabitable anyway, due to a lack of water. For this article, I will be talking about buying a piece of land.
Buying your homestead...
This method is a bit more secure at the moment but also expensive. Land prices are very expensive right now due to high levels of debt, easy oil, population explosion, and the booming economy of the last 60 years. A very modest 80 acre property can easily cost 200k and up, and anyone who is work camping and paying cash will quickly realize it will take a long, long time to save enough money. So we will stick to small-sized properties, up to a couple acres. These generally cost less than 10k (in the country) and 1/2 acre is generally enough space for a small family, an RV and a large garden. Just like living in a van, remember that less IS more because you will learn to utilize the space efficiently.
When selecting a piece of land the most important thing to look for is access to water. Water from a year round stream or river is best, a clear lake is good, a pond is manageable, and harvesting rain water is possible, even if the water is within walking distance of your property and not on the property itself. This will be your back up source, however we will be using a water well as our primary source.
Living on your homestead…
In most places public utilities, such as water and sewer, are readily available, but I discourage their use due to the expense of setup, the recurring payment, dwindling supply of fresh water, the constant increase of chemicals used to “treat” the water, and growing demand will ultimately lead to an expensive, undesirable, and possibly undrinkable water. My advise is to make sure when selecting a property that you can pound-in or drill a water well. While this may sound like a daunting task, you can pound your own well into the ground (up to 50′) in soft ground for a cost of $200- 300 dollars in materials plus a little extra for a hand pump.
The septic tank is something more of a unnecessary luxury that I will discuss briefly. While a septic tank is nice to have, it can also be rather expensive to install and requires unpleasant and regular maintenance. Might I recommend a simpler and very cost effective solution, one that is especially appealing to gardeners. Compost the fecal matter completely and use it to fertilize non-edible plants such as young trees, bushes, and flowers and apply diluted urine (1: 10) directly to garden plants. Or fill a 5 gallon bucket half way full with wood ash and urinate into the bucket; within a few weeks, the nitrogen content of the wood ash will be as high as Miracle Grow.
Trash disposal is very simple as well: paper and organic matter gets composted and added to the garden. Wood, plastics, and fabrics get burned. And glass and metals must be hauled off. The good news is that scrap yards pay for the metal. Glass is more difficult, so I avoid buying it, and when I do I often take it with me into town to pitch it into a public trash can. Of course, recycle whenever you can!
The tax man cometh…
The next thing you need to be aware of when selecting a property is taxes and association fees. While taxes are a personal decision and the lower the better, I highly recommend avoiding association fees, because a small recurring fee every month becomes very expensive over a long period of time. Also, association fees are enforced by levies and liens on the property and may possibly result in the confiscation of your property if you miss payments or violate their terms. When you purchase your property, be sure you own it outright, without hindrances, and the deed is free and clear. And do your homework, because some people can be very tricky or be unknowingly selling an encumbered property. Its best to select an unzoned or agricultural zoned property.
Finding a property that meets these demands really is difficult because these properties are considered ‘valuable assets’ and people like to keep them as an investment. And if you do find someone who is willing to sell, you will likely pay a hefty price for it. The best thing to do is talk to people around you, because it’s very possible that person may know someone who has a small property they might like to sell. This is the best method of finding an excellent property. Other good methods include motherearthnews. com’s real estate section and unitedcountryrealestate.com. And if you’re up to dumpster diving for costume jewelry, you could try craigslist.com’s real estate section.
However you decide to go, it will likely take a great deal of time to save the money, a great deal of sacrifice, and it will likely take you just as long to find a good piece of property.
The first year, a good year…
The next thing to consider on your path of sustainability, now that you have purchased your land, is what do you do with it. All these details vary on geographical location. However, after the livable space has been cleared, I highly recommend planting fruit trees the first year. Fruit trees are fantastic because you can leave your homestead at any time and travel about and your trees will be maintenance free and supply you will plenty of fruit and a good reason to go home.
Keeping the lights on…
The next topic is power. Solar panels and a small generator really are the way to go. A couple of solar panels will easily supply all of your power needs if you can live without an AC unit. A small generator is essential to run a well pump and to charge your battery bank during heavy cloud cover or during winter months. Now, on a more frugal note, it is quite easy to live without luxuries such as a water pump, and solar panels. Candles and the PVC hand pump I discussed earlier are an inexpensive and effective substitute.
Animals and gardens…
In addition to fruit trees, a small garden or green house on your new homestead can provide you with a major portion of your food for the year, and raising small animals such as rabbits, chickens, and goats easily provides all the meat, dairy, and eggs you can eat. Plus they are lots of fun, easy to care for and inexpensive. And as a single guy, a half a dozen rabbits, and a half dozen laying hens, and a .22 hunting rifle provide more meat than I can eat. The animals are fantastic and they compliment the garden so well. When I want to travel somewhere I cull and sell all the animals, and stock my freezer and take off leaving the plants to fend for themselves until I return. My food bill here is less than $10-15 a week these last couple months, unless I go out to eat.
Raising your own food on your own homestead is fantastic, because in addition to it being tasty and oh-so-good for you, you can get it to where your only expense will be your property taxes. And when you’re tired and out of money from life on the road, nothing is sweeter than going home…well, except, maybe apples from your own trees.
Life is good indeed…
With all the money you have saved from RV/Van dwelling, and homesteading on a small piece of land, all of a sudden you will find yourself with tons of free time and all your needs met, and life in general is very simple, and you’re happy all the time. Caring for your small animals and your growing things suddenly provides great and meaningful joy in life. Plus making money becomes a labor of love, because honestly, you have plenty of money. What to do with all this free time is up to you, but all this while you are making this planet a better place to live for yourself and the rest of us.
If you have any questions, comments, would like to invite me to stay at your homestead, or are interested in a land pool for an RV/Vandwellers community email me at firstname.lastname@example.org