As our world changes rapidly, and more people struggle to keep up with its fast-paced demands, it comes as no surprise that many folks want to become homesteaders.
This way of life often referred to as “living the dream” is, of course, the dream of many. For those who intend to make the change, the first thing they need to do is find some land on which to make the dream real.
Naturally, one of the fist questions that arises is: “How much land do I head to start a homestead?”
The answer varies a lot but, in general, you can homestead on anything between two and 40 acres. 2 acres if you only want to garden, 3 – 5 acres if you want to raise a few animals, and at least 10 acres if you want to have trees for wood.
Of course, there will always be exceptions, and lots of variations on this estimate. Some people homestead in tiny urban apartments, while others find that they need 10, 20, even 50 acres to make their dreams of self-sufficient living come true.
Let’s get into some actual details to figure out YOUR answer below…
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How Much Land Is Right for You?
Stories abound of people who’ve bought just any old plot of land for their dream homestead, only to later find that it’s just not enough space to fulfill their dreams.
It is not always easy to add extra land to a plot. Your dream plot next door, which could add a ton of space to your homestead, may be owned by someone else. Similarly, the larger plot of land you’re thinking of buying may not be suitable for homestead use.
The first thing is to define what activities will be undertaken. The more things you want to do and make, the more land you need – period.
Many people dream of turning their existing backyard into a homestead. The aim is to reduce the purchases of store-bought produce by growing more produce at home.
Yes, growing substantial amounts of produce in the small confines of a suburban backyard is possible, especially if vertical gardening techniques are used. By making the most of the space you have, you don’t need nearly as much space as you might think.
Can we consider this a homestead? That depends on whom you talk to…
While some passionate homesteaders will argue that you need to have more than just a garden to consider a property a true homestead, others believe that homesteading is more a state of mind than anything else – and that this would be sufficient.
Either way, having such a small parcel of land will be limiting, to say the least. You may not have enough space for truly self-sufficient homesteading.
To start a homestead with a high degree of self-sufficiency, a larger amount of land is needed. The closer the goal is to 100% self-sufficiency, the larger the plot of land needs to be.
Decide what exactly you want to do on your homestead, as this will influence how much land you need. A homestead needs land to:
- Grow vegetables, fruit trees, and herbs
- Raising livestock
- Grow wood for fuel
- Forage for wild edibles like mushrooms and nuts
Let’s take a closer look at factors and activities that will dictate how much land we will require for our homestead.
Number of People in the Household
The most important factor that we should consider is how many people the homestead will need to support. Obviously, more people equal higher food requirements equal larger amounts of land needed.
The dream of a homestead existence is one that is deeply personal. However, the whole family unit must share the dream, and be committed to working together to make the dream a reality.
It is easy to move to Alaska and find a 40-acre plot that will work for all the homestead activities. However, with all the different chores involved, a plot of that size would be virtually impossible for one person to support.
There is just far too much physical labor involved. However, a family of four or five capable people would manage quite well and be able to supply the labor to create an amazing homestead.
Also, if you have or want pets, you’ll have to consider their space requirements as well.
Size of Vegetable Garden
To keep things simple, we assume that a garden is being planted primarily in the fall and spring. This will help you achieve self-sufficient food production throughout the year, though of course, your growing capabilities will be influenced by your climate.
We should expect that a minimum of 19,000 square feet (1,765 square meters) will be needed per person. Doing the math based on this figure, four people would require 77,000 square feet (7,153 square meters, or 1.8 acres).
This estimate should be considered the bare minimum. Even when using vertical and aquaponic gardening methods in this space, the variety and quantity of food may not be enough.
Remember, to survive on a homestead, enough food needs to be grown during the growing period to last for the rest of the year.
Figuring out the total food requirement is complicated since, in the real world, not everything grows as we would want it to. If I want five of a particular plant, I typically plant at least 10 of them. If they all grow, I consider the other five a bonus.
You absolutely must account for things like crop failure, destruction from the elements, and pests and diseases.
It’s also important to remember that using a small plot intensively can damage the nutritional structure of the soil.
The land could be damaged to such an extent that it could become barren. With extra land, some can be set aside for a season to be fed and allowed to recuperate.
You may not need to set aside extra land, though, if you’re able to properly care for the soil and feed it with the addition of things like compost.
Vegetables are not the only crops needed for a balanced, healthy diet. Arable crops like wheat are also important.
A good starting point for a family of four would be:
- 12,000 square feet (1,115 square meters) to grow wheat
- 2,640 square feet (2.45 acres) to grow corn.
In total, we should allocate 1.8 to 2 acres as a minimum to produce the needed yield.
Fruit is also essential. Some fruit such as strawberries can be grown within a vegetable patch. However, an orchard or at least a separate area for fruit is far superior.
How Much Land Is Needed for an Orchard?
The amount of land required for an orchard does depend on what you want to grow. Many people will be happy with some apples and oranges, but there is so much more they could grow.
Plums, figs, cherries, and avocados (all climate-dependent of course) are good options (to name just a few).
If we estimate a requirement for 25 to 50 dwarf trees, these will need:
15-foot spacing = 5,625 square feet (1/8 acre) to11,250 square feet (1/4 acre).
This amount of land will need to be larger if the intention is to grow semi-dwarf trees, and even more for full-sized trees.
This is because full-sized trees require more space in-between them for proper air circulation and cultivation. Soft fruits are happy in a minimum of 20 square feet (2 square meters) of land.
How Much Land for Raising Animals?
For a vegetarian or a vegan, a small amount of land for growing vegetables may well be enough. However, most homesteaders want to raise animals for meat, eggs, or milk as well.
Mention the good life of homesteading, and almost everyone thinks of chickens. Why not? After all, chickens are the obvious animals to keep since they supply eggs and meat, and they are also super easy to keep.
Keeping eight laying hens should be enough to keep a family supplied with eggs, with a few extra to incubate for meat chickens. It is perfectly conceivable to accommodate these chickens in an enclosed coop with an attached run.
200 square feet (8.5 square meters) would be adequate.
However, a free-range hen is happier than one that is kept in a restrictive space… and a happy hen supplies more eggs.
They do not necessarily need to run completely free, especially in areas where there are predators that also enjoy free-range hens.
A fenced-in area, like a chicken tractor or mobile coop, that can be moved regularly to prevent the hens from stripping the ground bare is ideal.
A 600 square foot (56 square meters) area would allow the flock to be moved every two weeks, and keep it exceedingly happy. It will then supply you with plenty of quality eggs along with free fertilizer for your soil.
Goats are another must-have for any serious homesteader. Like chickens, these animals offer multiple benefits. They are a source of meat and milk that can also be used to create cheese and other items such as cosmetics and soap.
Two goats will be happy with 500 square feet (46.5 square meters). They don’t need any pasture on which to graze, since they will eat their way through any weedy or overgrown patches. Kitchen scraps will also be appreciated by them.
However, if you intend to breed goats, a little more land will be needed. It’s not good practice to mix females and males that have not been neutered apart from mating time.
Goats can also be mixed with some other animals to help reduce the amount of land that they require. Sheep, cattle, and chickens make great companions for goats.
In general, one acre of land will support between 6 and 10 sheep comfortably.
However, if the land is not very fertile or if you are prone to drought-like conditions that limit the growth of grass, a larger area may be needed to ensure that enough grazing area will be provided for them.
Breeding sheep, which is necessary to keep a constant supply of fresh meat, will require extra space, too.
Cattle are also particularly useful to keep, although harder to tend to. They too supply meat and dairy products; however, they are a little more demanding when it comes to the amount of land required.
Cattle need a relatively large amount of good quality grazing for them to flourish. On average, a cow can survive on one acre for 80 days (or 80 cows will require an acre of grazing every day).
This should be the minimum amount of land to keep in mind, since the grazing forage must regrow before it can be used again. Alternatively, extra land can be supplied to be able to move the cattle regularly.
Winter may not supply sufficient grazing, so more land is needed to grow sufficient food to carry them through the winter months. This is true for the other ruminants we’ve mentioned above (sheep and goats) too.
Depending on what animals and how many you want to keep, you may need to set aside a minimum of 10 acres to grow food for your cattle.
A House is Not Enough
For a truly productive homestead, a house and a garden are not enough, though they serve as a great start. Extra land will be needed to carry out a variety of other chores.
The addition of a greenhouse or a plastic polytunnel will only require a plot of approximately 15 ft. x 26 ft. = 390 square feet (36 square meters). However, it can dramatically improve your land’s yield.
A greenhouse offers the ability to control variables like heat, moisture, and pests. This will help to extend the growing season for many crops. This can make growing your own food a bit easier.
The small space occupied by a greenhouse can help to reduce the total amount of land required.
A root cellar only needs to be about eight feet square, so it’s a small space with big benefits. It will help to stretch supplies throughout the year.
In a root cellar, you can store all kinds of products like apples, squash, and cabbag – all without refrigeration or freezing.
A root cellar doesn’t necessarily increase the amount of land required, however, it is an essential asset to be able to store and preserve as much food as possible.
Any homestead would be lost without a barn. A barn of about 30 ft. x 40 ft. (= 1,200 square feet 112 square meters) should be suitable for most homesteads.
Most homesteaders will build, and repair, many items during a year. Storing materials and tools for the homestead are also better in a barn. A house isn’t suitable for most of these activities and supplies, since many contain fuels and oils that shouldn’t be stored inside the house.
Barns are essential when rearing animals, too. Often, when giving birth, animals will require a period of isolation or separation. Some animals can struggle with harsh winter weather, so a barn is a perfect solution for this situation, too.
Wood for Fuel and Construction
The off-grid lifestyle of a homestead requires a reliable source of power. Solar is fine for many things; however, wood is necessary for heat and often for cooking.
It is possible to buy firewood, however, it is far better to use your own supply. It’s a lot of work but far cheaper and you know exactly what you are burning. Plus, this will allow you to be more self-reliant.
The amount of wood required for a homestead will vary. The amount will depend on if it is only being used to heat the home. More will be needed if it is being used as a fuel for cooking.
The amount of wood also depends on how well the house is insulated. The type of wood that is being grown also affects how much heat is being generated, and therefore, the amount needed.
To try to quantify, 46 to 55 five-inch trees will supply approximately one cord of wood. If, for example, we are estimating a four-cord requirement, we’d need to have 200 small trees. If the trees are larger, we will not need as many. Four larger trees may be enough.
We must also remember it takes a long time for a tree to grow. Thinking a plot with 200 small trees will be enough may be no good.
We must also remember it takes a long time for a tree to grow. It will likely serve as no good thinking a plot with 200 small trees will be enough.
Keep in mind that wood has many other uses in a homestead. It’s the number one construction material and can be the basis of many old-school homesteading tools.
Best Places to Homestead
The location of a homestead is also an important factor in deciding how much land a homestead requires to be workable.
The reason location is important for the quality of land is that the United States covers a large geographical area that encompasses different climatic zones.
If, for example, you want to start a homestead in West Texas, you will soon discover that the summers are extremely hot and dry. This type of climate makes growing crops and other water-dependent activities more complicated and increases the requirement for land.
In one location, five acres may be enough for a homestead. In West Texas, it may require 20 acres to achieve the same level of sufficiency.
Currently, Alaska is one of the most popular locations for people to set up a homestead, despite it being one of the harshest and hardest environments for homesteading. Again, a location like that requires a larger quantity of land.
The good news about Alaska is that land is cheaper, and legislation makes homesteading easier.
For those that prefer an easier existence that does not require so much land, locations such as Maine and Missouri are ideal for a small homestead. These states enjoy a much better climate that makes life easier, and the amount of land required can be reduced.
Good Land Versus Bad Land
Not all land is the same. There is land that is good for cultivation and raising animals, while other land makes these impossible. When looking for land for a homestead, it is vital to assess the land characteristics of the complete plot.
From a five-acre plot of land, for example, it is entirely possible that one acre has rocky outcrops or is steep. Another acre may have a stream. Another acre may be wooded.
Removing these areas from the plot size leaves two acres for the house, the barn, the greenhouse, the vegetable plot, the orchard, and the animals.
In some locations, the three acres may be enough to supply the requirements for your family. However, in many, it will prove to be insufficient.
Backyard homesteaders or suburban homesteaders only have a small amount of land with which to work – usually around 1 to 3 acres. Limited land means limited resources; you can only keep smaller animals and grow certain fruit and nut trees.
There are also legal restrictions to consider regarding size and zoning, as well as on what animals you’re allowed to keep.
We’ve seen estimations for how much land is needed for a homestead. Despite being a particularly important question, it is exceedingly difficult to supply an exact figure for every person.
The figures and estimates in this article are not set in stone. Some can homestead on as little as three acres, while others live a rewarding homestead life on 40 acres.
Although it’s easy to tell you to buy as much land as you can, that’s not always the best option – and you might not have the financial resources to maintain such a large homestead.
Figure out how many people will be living on your homestead and decide which activities you will be doing there.
Most homesteads that have four people living and working on them will want to:
- Grow vegetables – 1.8 to 2 acres
- Arable crops – 1.8 to 2 acres
- Start an orchard – ¼ to ½ acre
- Rear animals – 5 acres for the animals, 10 acres for animal feed
- Grow wood for fuel – 10 acres
The space required to grow the amount of food you need, and to keep animals depends on the climate in the desired location. It also depends on whether the land is fertile and productive.
Space is also needed for buildings such as root cellars, greenhouses, barns, tool sheds, duck pools, butcher shops, and more.
Ultimately, the amount of space you need for a homestead will vary, but these estimates and examples should help you make an informed decision!
Three years ago, I bought an off-grid Cortijo in a small valley in the Andalucian mountains. Although, perhaps the lifestyle is in my genes as my grandfather and his four brothers were Homesteaders in Alberta Canada in the 1900s.
The mountains of Spain are a difficult place to grow many of the flowers that I was used to in the UK. However, veggies grow well year-round. Peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, cucumber, melons and chard all fare well in the Mediterranean climate. Almond trees provide me with a cash crop of around 1 ton while still retaining some to make almond milk and flour.