I’ll never forget the first time I used a water bath canner by myself.
I was feeling pretty smug, going off a few experiences I had when canning tomatoes with my then-boyfriend (now husband). I knew what I was doing. I didn’t need to read and follow the instructions to a T.
After all, canning was like cooking, right? You could deviate from the recipe here and there. It was a creative art, not a science.
I quickly realized the error of my ways when, after putting several cold jars of tomatoes into the canner (instead of hot ones), the jars exploded in the hot water, leaving shards of glass and splinters of tomatoes everywhere.
It was a mess. And I was totally humiliated – and most importantly, humbled.
I’m not a perfect homesteader. I’ve made my share of mistakes. And, I’m embarrassed to admit some of them.
But hopefully, by sharing my experiences, you can learn from my mistakes and avoid making them yourself!
So without further ado, here are 18 homesteading mistakes that I’m not proud of…
1. Bringing Home Lots of Livestock Before You Know What to Do With Them or How to Raise Them
I’ve always loved animals, so when I decided to start homesteading, I made the mistake of bringing home a lot of livestock before I really knew what to do with them or how to raise them.
It was an overwhelming and expensive undertaking, and I quickly realized that I wasn’t ready for it.
I was heartbroken when I had to sell or butcher some of the animals, but it was the right thing to do. Now, I feel confident raising more animals – but I plan for them first.
Now, I’m much more prepared and only bring home animals that I know I can take care of. It’s a lesson that I learned the hard way, but it’s one that I’m forever grateful for.
2. Not Using Online Resources (and Community Resources) For the Information You Need
I’ll admit it, I was a bit of a Luddite when I first started homesteading. I was determined to do things the “old-fashioned” way, without any modern conveniences or technology. This made for some interesting experiences, to say the least.
One mistake I made was not using online resources for information. There’s so much helpful information available online, from how-to articles to forums where you can ask questions and get advice from experienced homesteaders.
I also didn’t take advantage of community resources, such as local extension offices or farmers’ markets. I now realize that there’s no shame in using all the resources at my disposal to help me be a better homesteader.
And who knows, maybe someday I’ll be the one giving advice to other newbie homesteaders!
3. Trying to Grow Too Many Plants in the Garden at Once
When I first started my garden, I made the mistake of trying to grow too many plants at once. I planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and pretty much every other vegetable imaginable.
I was so excited to see everything growing and producing food that I didn’t consider the amount of time and effort it would take to care for all of those plants. As the summer went on, I quickly realized that I was in over my head.
The garden became neglected and overgrown, and most of the vegetables ended up going to waste. Lesson learned!
4. Making Decisions as a Hobby Farmer Instead of as a Business
When I first started homesteading, I was very naive. I thought it would be easy to just “wing it” and that everything would somehow just work out. My early mistakes cost me a lot of time, energy, and money.
One of the biggest mistakes I made was treating my homesteading like a hobby instead of a business. I would make decisions based on what I felt like doing at the moment instead of what was actually going to be best for my business.
As a result, my operation was inefficient and unorganized. It wasn’t until I started making decisions as a business owner that things really started to turn around for me.
Now, I plan everything out in advance and make sure that every decision I make is going to help me reach my long-term goals.
Though it’s been a learning process, making the switch from hobby farmer to business owner was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
5. Not Investing in the Right Kind of Fencing
One of the most important aspects of homesteading is creating a safe and secure environment for your animals.
This means keeping predators out and ensuring that your animals have plenty of space to roam. When we first started homesteading, we made the mistake of not investing in the right kind of fencing.
We bought the cheapest fencing material – poultry netting – we could find and spent months trying to build and re-finagle a fence that would keep our animals safe.
But no matter how hard we tried, our fence was never strong enough to keep out predators or contain our animals.
As a result, we lost several animals to predators and other chickens just simply…wandered away. Not effective!
We needed to do more research about what kind of fencing would work best for our animals and in our area.
Poultry netting works well for some areas, but for our land, the soil was too rocky and heavy to hold the stakes, so it just didn’t keep animals in (or out).
6. Breeding Animals Without Any Kind of Plan
Breeding animals is a common homesteading practice, but it’s one that can easily go wrong if you don’t have a plan.
One of the most common mistakes is breeding animals without any regard for their lineage or health.
This can lead to inbred animals that are weak and sickly, and it can also cause serious problems in the future if you decide to sell or trade your animals.
Another mistake is failing to keep track of your animals’ offspring. This can make it difficult to determine which animals are related to each other, and it can also cause problems if you need to sell or trade an animal in the future.
Finally, failing to spay or neuter your animals can lead to unwanted litters that you may not be able to care for properly.
7. Not Checking on the Zoning
Zoning laws vary greatly from place to place. Setbacks, height restrictions, and even the types of animals you’re allowed to keep can all be governed by zoning.
Before you purchase property or move to a new homestead, it’s vital that you check on the zoning regulations in place.
Failure to do so could result in hefty fines or even the loss of your homestead entirely. In some cases, you may be able to apply for a variance or special exception that would allow you to continue homesteading on your property.
However, this is often a long and difficult process. It’s much easier to simply make sure that you’re in compliance with the law from the start.
Checking on the zoning regulations in your area is an essential part of being a responsible homesteader.
8. Not Listening to Advice
One of the most common mistakes made by new homesteaders is failing to listen to advice. Whether it’s from more experienced homesteaders, family, or friends, it’s important to take heed of what others have to say.
There are a lot of things that can go wrong on a homestead, and it’s best to be prepared for as many eventualities as possible. Ignoring advice can lead to costly mistakes, and in some cases, it can even be dangerous.
For example, if you’re advised to build a fence around your garden to keep out deer, but you ignore that advice, you may find that your crops are quickly decimated. In short, when it comes to homesteading, it pays to listen to those who know best.
9. Poor Budgeting
When it comes to homesteading, there are a lot of things to consider. One of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects is budgeting.
Without a well-thought-out budget, it can be easy to overspend on supplies and equipment. This can quickly put a strain on your finances and make it difficult to maintain your homestead in the long run.
Another common mistake is not factoring in unexpected costs. No matter how prepared you are, there will always be unexpected expenses.
Whether it’s an unplanned repair or a sudden increase in the price of feed, being prepared for the unexpected is crucial to keeping your homestead running smoothly.
10. Thinking You Have to DIY EVERYTHING
One of the worst mistakes I ever made when I first started homesteading was thinking that I had to do everything myself.
It seemed like every other homesteader I saw had built their own house, grown all their own food, and made all their own clothes.
So I tried to do the same, and it was an absolute disaster. Not only was I constantly exhausted, but my house was a mess, my clothes were falling apart, and my food was barely edible.
It wasn’t until I realized that I didn’t have to do everything myself that I started to enjoy homesteading.
These days, I’m much more relaxed and focused on the things that I’m actually good at. I don’t try to sew my own clothes. I don’t always bake my own bread. But I grow most of my own produce and we raise all of our meat here on the farm.
And as a result, my homestead is thriving. So if you’re thinking about homesteading, don’t make the same mistake I did and try to do everything yourself.
Focus on the things that you’re good at and delegate the rest. You’ll be much happier and your homestead will be much more successful as a result.
11. Assuming You Need to Raise All of Your Own Animals On the Farm
One of the biggest mistakes that new homesteaders make is assuming that they need to raise all of their animals from scratch.
While it is certainly satisfying to watch a chick hatch and grow into a full-grown chicken, it is also a lot of work.
Not only do you have to care for the chicks, but you also have to worry about protecting them from predators and keeping them warm. Started pullets, on the other hand, are young chickens that have already been raised by someone else.
As a result, they work less and are more likely to survive.
Similarly, it is often easier to buy older livestock that is already used to being around humans. While it may be more expensive upfront, it can save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.
12. Ignoring Your Land’s Microclimate
Before you even think about starting a homestead, it’s important to take your land’s microclimate into account. Microclimates are small-scale climatic conditions that can vary significantly from the general conditions in the surrounding area.
For example, a valley might experience warmer temperatures and more frost than the surrounding hills. As a result, different plants will thrive in different microclimates.
Ignoring your land’s microclimate can lead to all sorts of problems, from poor crop yields to soil erosion.
So take the time to study your land and figure out what kind of plants will do best in each specific area. With a little bit of planning, you can make sure your homestead is successful for years to come.
13. Starting Too Many Projects At Once
I’m the type of person who likes to be busy. I always have multiple projects going on at once, and I often take on more than I can handle.
As a result, I often find myself overwhelmed and stressed out. This was never more apparent than when I first started homesteading. I had so many ideas and plans, and I wanted to do everything at once.
I quickly learned that this was a recipe for disaster. Not only did I not have the time or energy to finish all of my projects, but I also began to resent homesteading because it felt like work instead of enjoyment.
Now, I’ve learned to take things one step at a time. I focus on one project at a time and make sure that it is completed before moving on to something new. This has helped me to enjoy homesteading more and has made me much more productive.
14. Ignoring Emergency Planning
One of the most common homesteading mistakes is neglecting to plan for emergencies.
Whether it’s a natural disaster, a power outage, or something else entirely, it’s important to be prepared for anything that might come your way.
That means having an emergency kit stocked with food, water, and other essentials, as well as a plan for what to do in case of an emergency.
It’s also important to know your risks and hazards so that you can be as prepared as possible.
By taking the time to plan ahead, you can make sure that you and your family are safe and sound in the event of an emergency.
15. Planting Things That Won’t Grow Well in Your Zone
One of the most common mistakes that new homesteaders make is planting things that won’t grow well in their climate zone.
For example, someone who lives in a cold climate might try to grow citrus fruits, which require a lot of heat and sunlight to thrive. Or someone in a hot, dry climate might try to grow potatoes, which need cool, moist conditions to produce a good crop.
Before you start planting, it’s important to do your research and find out which plants will do well in your particular climate. That way, you can avoid disappointment and make the most of your homesteading efforts.
16. Ignoring the Need to Cultivate Other “Rural Skills”
As a homesteader, I often find myself focused on the practical skills of gardening and raising livestock. After all, these are the activities that directly provide food and shelter for my family.
However, I recently realized that I had been neglecting some of the other essential skills of homesteading.
Canning, sewing, and breadmaking are all vital to self-sufficiency, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have let these skills fall by the wayside.
As I look back, I can see how my focus on the “practical” skills of homesteading has led me to overlook the importance of these other crucial talents.
From now on, I will make a point of cultivating a well-rounded set of homesteading skills, so that I can be truly self-sufficient in any situation.
17. Putting Your Livestock in the Wrong Spot
When it comes to homesteading, there are a lot of things to consider. One of the most important decisions you’ll make is where to put your livestock. If you’re not careful, you can easily end up putting them in the wrong spot.
For example, if you have a garden, you might be tempted to put your chickens in the garden area. However, chickens will quickly destroy your plants and leave behind a mess.
The same is true for goats and other grazing animals. You need to make sure they have enough space to roam and that they won’t damage your property.
Another common mistake is putting your livestock too close to your home. Not only will this create noise and odor issues, but it can also be dangerous. If you have young children, they could easily get into the pen and get hurt.
Similarly, if you have dogs, they could get into a fight with the livestock. It’s important to think carefully about where you put your livestock and make sure they have enough space to stay safe and healthy.
18. Focusing on Pretty and Perfect Rather Than Functional and Done
I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. When I started homesteading, I wanted everything to look perfect. I obsessively weeded my garden, making sure every leaf was pristine.
I spent hours planning and planting flowers, striving for an arrangement that would look like it belonged in a magazine.
And I scoured the internet for the perfect chicken coop, complete with fancy features and a designer paint job.
It was only after my first winter that I realized how foolish I had been. We couldn’t afford a chicken coop like that – nor did we need one.
Focusing on pretty and perfect rather than functional and done is a mistake that nearly all new homesteaders make. The truth is, homesteading is hard work. There’s always something that needs to be fixed, repaired, or built.
There’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done, let alone takes care of all the little details. And there’s always something that goes wrong, no matter how carefully you plan.
So if you’re just starting out, save yourself some time and stress and focus on what’s really important: getting the job done.
I’ve made all of these mistakes and more, but hopefully you can learn from my experiences (and save yourself some money in the process).
If there are any other homesteading blunders that you would like me to share, please let me know in the comments. I promise to learn from my mistakes and never make them again!
Now it’s your turn – what homesteading mistake have you made that you’re not too proud to admit?
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).