Homestead Design from a Practical, Tactical, Agricultural Survival Perspective, by C.F

Let’s talk about practical, tactical, and agricultural survival principles and details that pertain to developing land in a way that will facilitate agricultural productivity, sustainability, and security.

Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house. Prov. 24:27.

Assessing the Land

The Land

First of all, we are likely to be constrained by property boundaries. Therefore, in selecting property, what are our priorities?

Not everyone has the same priorities, and priorities change as the world around us changes. For example, a property that is perfectly usable today may become untenable if grid power is cut off. This occurs because the ample well water is too deep to access effectively by primitive means. Or, it may be too public, or too inaccessible.

Agriculture being our focus, the first priority is soil. Meadow silt, especially when found on a bench partway up a mountainside, is nice. However, less hospitable ground can be utilized if it offers other advantages.

Bottom land is generally less desirable, especially in cold environments, because of the fact that cold air and frost settles into the low lands. Other considerations are air quality (mephitic, stagnant air), likelihood of flooding, undesirable vegetation, and tactical vulnerability.

Ridge-tops and mountain peaks, likewise, have some opposite issues. While tactically strong, they are subject to high winds, lack privacy, and frequently lack good backstops and backdrops. More important, they are generally lacking in water.

Sun exposure is critical, especially for horticulture. Southern, eastern, and western exposures each have definite advantages. But I tend to favor eastern and southern exposures, since they warm quickly in the early morning and are not as prone to overheating as western exposures. Northern exposures have the advantage of more moisture and shade but generally are less productive and more prone to molds, mildew, and similar pathological elements. Yet, in a dry climate, they may offer valuable resources. One of the most prominent of which is timber and crops such as berries that function in an understory environment. They are also more likely to offer water sources.


This is often the difference between life and death, for agriculture. Some climates receive enough rain for year-around growing without artificial irrigation, but many do not.

Mountains are God’s water reservoirs. The upper elevations generally receive more precipitation than the lowlands. Often, this comes in the form of deep snow as well as rain. The snow releases its treasure slowly, soaking the ground, and filling these massive reservoirs. Then, the water is released through springs, seeps, and wells, watering the earth and creating streams and rivers. Living in the mountains means that water will be more available and more dependable than in the flat land. Also, since there is less human presence in the high mountains, this water is generally the purest. There is hardly a purer source of water than freshly melting snow, as it releases its load of hydrogen peroxide, and then filters through the soil.

How much water do we need? A typical household may use a hundred gallons a day. With diligence, this can be reduced. However, 100 square feet of garden needs about nine gallons of water per day. An acre needs about 3800 gallons a day. If we plan on using sprinklers and the humidity is low, it may require twice that much, because so much water evaporates.

A water source that gives one gallon per minute of water, in the driest weather, supplies 1,440 gallons per day.

By consulting weather records for the area, it may be possible to determine how much of the needed water is likely to be supplied by rain each month. If it is possible to create large enough cisterns, water may be saved from the wetter months to use during the dry time.

Water Delivery

If there is water in a well or at the bottom of the property, can we get it up to where it is needed? In time of peace, we can pump water very efficiently using electric pumps or gasoline pumps. However, in times of distress, even independent alternative energy systems are likely to break down all too quickly.

The advantages of a gravity-flow water system are obvious. Once the system is in place, there is no energy requirement except for gravity, and plumbing is relatively durable and repairable. So, in selecting land for survival in times of national distress, having gravity flow water could be the difference between the land sustaining life or not.

Dry-land/Rainwater Potential

Does the land have growing potential without irrigation? If it is growing trees or grazeable vegetation, yes! Are there wild fruit trees? Wild strawberries often grow in surprisingly arid environments. Give special notice to what routinely grows under the natural conditions, and work from that point. These plants are obviously able to survive and reproduce. Is there any preferable crop that would work in the same conditions?

Mulch is another valuable moisture-conserving aid. Simply mulching heavily before the rains cease can preserve moisture for crops for weeks and even months, allowing us to reap a harvest that would never happen without it. Straw, sawdust, leaves, et cetera act as a blanket that holds moisture near the surface while limiting evaporation.

Dust Mulch

Another form of mulch is dust mulch. Shallow discing or roto-tilling of the soil, producing a dusty “fluff” over the soil, has been used by orchardists for conserving water. This is also a common fact of desert ecosystems. Below the sunburnt sands, lie cooler sands, and increased moisture. However, this dust mulch is not, itself, in a condition to nourish plants or other life forms very effectively, and the soil beneath tends to become hardpan, unlike soil covered by organic mulches. Dust mulch does not feed the microbial life in the soil, as organic mulch does.

If the land has good dry-land farming potential, and you are able to sustain your family by this means, there is a chance that the domestic water needs could be supplied by a rain-water collection system and large cistern. If carefully used, a 10,000 gallon cistern (12 feet cubed) has the potential to supply a household for quite a few months. One foot of rain on 1,500 square feet of roof should refill it. Most house-barn combinations should be able to provide this area, if the eaves are fitted with gutters and appropriate downspouts. If the cistern is sunk into the ground at (or somewhat above) the ground-floor level of the house, the water can easily be lifted to the kitchen and washroom with a hand pump or buckets.

Gray Water Potential

Every household must use water for cleaning purposes. The byproduct is gray water. Any homestead that has water shortages would be wise to consider using this for watering crops of some kind. Ideally, this water should be applied to the soil immediately and not stored, because of the putrifaction that will occur if held in a sunless, anaerobic environment. Also, it may be best applied in situations where exposed leaves and fruits are not scheduled for immediate harvest. And finally, it is important to avoid using chlorine and other toxic cleaners that can harm the soil as well as the people who employ them.

House Above The Garden

The use of gray water is one important reason why the house should be at a level above the garden, or at least an amount of garden that can utilize the volume produced. It may be possible to plumb the house so that the sinks, laundry facilities, and bathing facilities can be switched between the garden and the regular septic system. This way, if the water is not needed in the garden, it can be disposed of in the drain field.

Growing up in the mountains of rural Mexico, my mother noticed that the natives often had a patch of garden where they threw out their wash water. This little patch was usually extraordinarily healthy. Plants love wash water. It is like a steady supply of fresh compost, and soaps and detergents enhance nutrient absorption.

Don’t Poop In The Water

People are not marine animals, and when they dilute their feces it creates black water. This stuff is seriously nasty, useless for irrigation, and often needless. (Diluted livestock manure is almost as bad.) A typical septic system is a type of anaerobic composter, with a constant liquid effluent leaching out into the soil and evaporating. Human waste can, and should, be covered with soil or vegetable material, retaining nitrogen and keeping the flies away. So, if it is possible to set up a water-less system for dealing with human waste, it eliminates two problems—pollution and wasted water (hundreds of gallons per month). This system can be used alongside existing septic systems.

Arranging the Homestead

We have looked at several elements of productivity and sustainability in property. Assuming that we have settled on a piece, how can we best arrange our facilities?

Different people will have different priorities. However, I would suggest the following:

  • Productivity,
  • Efficiency,
  • Security,
  • Defensibility.

As we discuss these points, the various items will be woven together.

Privacy and Access

First of all, let us take a quick look at privacy and access. There is nothing quite like having peavish neighbors, who have your operation as their living-room view and complain about everything. In a time of distress, this could easily turn ugly, since lack of privacy gives a serious disadvantage in operational security.

Is the property accessed from above or from below? Is the prime agricultural land visible from the public road?

Ideally, the growing area and best pasture land is largely out of sight of neighbors and the public road, and it’s accessed from below.

House Location

House location is crucial. Ideally, the kitchen and other daytime living/working areas should overlook both garden and pasture. This is a tremendous help in maintaining watch over the flocks and crops. It may help to keep binoculars or a Spotter’s scope in position. Also, the house should be close to the agricultural developments. Every extra step will be taken tens of thousands of times, burning up many hours.

Barn Location

The barn location is also important. Often, the men will be working there. It is nice to have it within yelling distance of the house, or nearly so. Again, if it is possible to have the barn overlooking the crop and pasture lands, so much the better. And in developing raw land, it is often best to build the barn first. As an old builder said, “A barn will build a house, but a house will not build a barn.”

Having the house on the high ground, which may be farther from the road can create increased cost of road-building, and can potentially complicate water system installation. But the everyday convenience of being able to over-watch critical infrastructure is immense. And the cost of road-making and road-maintenance pays off in time to observe incoming traffic before it arrives at the doorstep.

In connection with these factors of over-watch, consider backstops, backdrops, and weapons safety. Varmints are a fact of life, often daily, for any agricultural operation, and we must safeguard lives and properties beyond the intended range of our projectiles. Some situations preclude the use of a rifle at times, but in others the short range of a shotgun is ineffective. (Shotguns also shred vegetation and dump a lot of metal into the soil.) It may be possible to create earth berms on the far side of the prime area to shoot into. In any case, be safe. You don’t want to find that a bullet fired at a bird or squirrel carried off into the vegetation or over the hill, hit your spouse, child, neighbor, livestock, or other innocent creature. Know your weapon’s performance, especially with regard to penetration, ricochet characteristics, trajectory, and extreme range.

Perimeter Security

If possible, have a trail around the perimeter of the property or operating area. Walk this trail regularly. The exercise is good, and it gives a chance to be intimately familiar with what comes and goes, animal and otherwise. Focus on tracking, as well as the creatures you actually see. This familiarity will be an aid in detecting the presence of dangerous animals and people, as well as a very useful awareness of the course of nature. And if the path follows the fence, so much the better. You’ll be aware of when it needs fixing.

Likewise, if possible, have a mowed swath around the garden fence. This will help expose animals as they enter and exit the garden, and it provides a clear path for patrolling the fence.

Finally, remember fire danger. Having a mowed or plowed firebreak around buildings, crop lands, and other areas is highly valuable in the event of a wildfire.

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

This has been another entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:

First Prize:

  1. A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
  2. A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
  3. A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
  4. DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
  5. An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
  6. Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
  7. A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
  8. Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of (a $180 value).

Second Prize:

  1. A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
  2. A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
  3. A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
  4. A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
  5. A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
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  7. A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
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  9. American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.

Third Prize:

  1. A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
  2. A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
  3. A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
  4. Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
  5. Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
  6. Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
  7. Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from (a $240 value), and

Round 73 ends on November 30th, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.


  1. Very good synopsis of setting up a homestead, but he left out one important factor, power. When in the planning stage it is important to decide if the property is suitable for renewable power of some sort. This in turn will lead you to the layout of the home and other out buildings to maximize solar efficiency.

  2. Excellent article. Your septic system also needs to be down slope from your home, so assure you have separation between that and your garden, gray water system.

  3. The author mentions how wonderful the mountains are and how good the water may be for irrigation among other things.
    I’ve lived in the mountains and now farther east. It is far, far better to live where irrigation is not necessary, not only because of the lessened effort and expense but also because the added humidity helps plant growth and stabilizes the growing season.

  4. Good points, commenters.
    Good growing land usually includes good solar panel mounting locations. Getting these within proximity of where the power will be used, is helpful. (Large-gauge wire, needed for long runs, is expensive!) Wind and water power are also considerations to factor in, but they tend to be more troublesome due to moving parts and mechanical failures.
    Moist climates have advantages in not needing supplemental irrigation. The downside is usually (1) increased population density, and (2) mycological overgrowth in forms of must, mold, mildew, etc.
    The Redoubt is usually moderate to arid.
    52 inches of rain per year (1 inch per week) would allow for an average that would eliminate the need for irrigation. However, droughts in these non-irrigated areas are still devastating.
    An annual precipitation of 30 inches per year is often a happy medium. This will require something like half the water to be supplied by irrigation.
    In my area, May and November tend to be the wettest months.
    The period when seeds are sprouting is the time when the most water is required, at the most frequent intervals. After the plants are established, the root systems can pull water up from farther down.

  5. In our dry Redoubt home area our best pumpkin patch grew over the septic drain field. Our gray water was ineffective for even a yard. Too much detergent.

  6. Good article.

    Before soil should come location’s security and privacy.

    Soil can be built up with raised gardens, terraces, etc, given time. For more arid environs, Brad Lancaster’s Rainwater Harvesting book series is quite good guide on this on traditional farming techniques in the American Southwest. Lots can be learned from permaculture too.

    Rain matters, water sources matter, etc, but given law of averages one can put in enough rainwater storage to get through most times. Redundancy is good however — and if implementing rainwater harvesting practices, A LOT of water can be banked into the soil.

    Insofar as mulch, don’t discount native prairie grasses (many vineyards and orchards in places ranging from desert SW to california are going that route as better than other options) — 6+ roots allow water penetration through harshest soils and them being much more water efficient than introduced grasses too to the tune of most needing rain only once per month save hottest parts of year in the south, and shading and covering soil massively reduces soil evaporation and they add/support more diverse soil biocultures and b/c they are rooted in the soil hold more soil in place from wind and water erosion and finally they amend the soil w/ dying vegetation that builds more soil over time.

    Basically, if the land can grow grass or the lack of grass is due to irresponsible land management/overgrazing, then some sort of crops can be grown.

    Author is correct — in the far south US, north and east slopes are in fact preferable vs south or west for more temperate regions…

    My only gripe with the author is his perimeter patrol… If looking for WROL type scenario, there are a lot of brush and briar etc outer fences that can be created that help to disguise settlement beyond that barrier, if looking at it from a permaculture perspective, this would be zone 5 around the property’s perimeter. Your livestock, security, or similar fence should be between permie zones 4 and 5 with your patrol track around the outside of zone 4. Granted, ideally you’d be able to overwatch zone 5 (and zone 4) to ensure safe prior to patrolling (or to provide overwatch and/or in lieu of patrolling ample tech, sensors, and cameras, well disguised, would be good replacements), but patrolling on a set path in a set manner everyday during a WROL scenario is exceptionally dangerous.
    If your property is directly on a busy public road with neighbors having consistent perimeter fencing as well, you’d be foolish to not have that as well, but then that location is not ideal…

    To a commenter above, rainwater storage flush water can be directed to graywater tanks to dilute soaps — and definitely take a look at more natural soaps like Dr Bonners for the shower (and they’re better for your skin too).

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