This is the story of a city boy and girl who decided to make the long journey to become country man and woman. This unlikely story has roots stretching back to childhood. Hopefully, my hindsight can offer some foresight to others on this blog who have not started down this formidable path. For any who have embarked on this journey, I hope my individual experience will give you new ideas and insights. Going from a high density human existence, to a life of constant challenges out in the wide open spaces, changes one’s perspectives on many different levels. This is what we have learned so far.
In the winter of 2012, we began to toy with the idea of becoming self sufficient, moving from the big city to the wide open spaces of the country. Neither the wife nor I had any experience living outside the rat maze of the big city. This was about to change, as a tiny seed once planted in my mind grew wild and unchecked into a tangled mess somewhat resembling the wild blackberry vines found in the south. Our kids had left the nest, and in our late forties we decided it was now or never if we were to make such a major lifestyle change.
Our Choice For Northern Arizona
The top three reasons we chose Northern Arizona were climate, water, and population density. Where we are is a riparian valley alongside a year-round creek that gets about 330 days of sunshine a year. The high temps in the summer average about 20-25 degrees cooler than the highs in Phoenix. The winters are generally mild with two or three snowstorms a year. The snow often melts away in a day or two. Also, we get 15-20 inches of rain a year which helps with the growing of things.
The Indians in the far NE part of Arizona have “Agua de Via” or “water is life” painted on their windmills. In the dry desert, water truly is life. It is somewhat of a misconception that Arizona is a vast dry desert. The truth is Arizona holds a vast amount of water underground, in fact thousands of years worth. The problem is that in most places it is hard to get to, hundreds of feet underground. The place we live has tons of high quality water close to the surface. The county we reside in has a population density of about 21 people per square mile. We live in a section of the county that has considerably less than that. Although a 90-mile drive puts us a little closer to the golden horde than JWR suggests. This is a trade off we can live with, as we are slightly off the beaten path.
We found a town that came into being in the aftermath of the civil war and is still going strong. It was settled by those of both north and south who headed west to build new lives. The people out here are old-school, salt of the earth folks. Cowboys get along with Indians, bikers get along with hippies, and conservatives get along with liberals. It is a place as my 77-year old venerated neighbor once said to me, “Everyone knows everyone’s business but minds their own.” People out here are polite and kind, willing to help a stranger. The people who already lived here were the kind we wanted for neighbors. We did not have to look to change anything. In fact, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is to be the change you want to see. This one act of a determined individual positively reverberates to a greater degree in a small community than in a large one.
Villa Purchase Five Years Ago
When we purchased our little villa five years ago, there was blood in the streets, with hundreds of vacation and second homes sitting idle in this market. Buying at or near the bottom enables you to get much more land or a nicer house than you could have afforded otherwise. By the time we were handed the keys, I was loaded for bear and could not wait to get started on the many ideas I had in my mind’s eye. The fact that I could not curb my enthusiasm was a major error. Jumping headfirst into the project caused me to make rookie mistakes.
Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong
The first thing I had to learn was that most everything I thought I knew was wrong. Unless you grew up living in the country, or spent time living away from the city at some point in your life, there is a steep learning curve you must overcome. All of the things you learned from reading books and blogs like this one, although very useful, can’t take the place of lessons learned through success and failure. The mindset one develops early in the journey will in large part determine the outcome of the endeavor.
In regard to the myriad of projects involved in such an undertaking, I learned “if it is to be, it is up to me”. This was not a new idea. I used this maxim with success in my former life while running my own plumbing business. The romanticized, idealized vision I had for living in the country did not match the reality on the ground. Even now, five years on, I rarely ever get to sit in my country garden, sipping lemonade in the shade.
My First Big Mistake
The first big mistake I made was buying a broke down palace. My wife and I ended up doing most of the work ourselves. The fact is this should have been job one. Buy a house that needs very few changes. Happy wife, happy life, right? I failed at this, because I was so fixated on our five acres of rich soil and the potential it held that I would have camped in a tent if need be. After all I had my outdoor BBQ, running water, electricity, a shower, and a toilet. What more could a man need?
It’s safe to say that the light and space of all this land put the zap on my pea brain. Having always lived on tiny city lots and using the small amount of yard/garden space to its fullest potential, I felt as I now had a blank canvas. We had no television of Internet for the first six months. I was happy to spend that time reading books. One finds that the need for mindless distraction is much less when your whole body aches from a long day of hard human labor.
Somethings Done Right
Even with these huge mistakes I was able to do somethings right. I decided on the seven most important elements I would like to see in the property. These seven items form the building blocks for a sustainable life that we are trying to live in harmony with nature. Below is the list in order of importance IMHO and a brief description as to where we are in the process of reaching said goals.
As part of the closing process in Arizona, one must pay for a well water laboratory test for bacteria and fecal contamination. We also had our well checked for heavy metals and arsenic. We also had the pump pulled and the depth and water table level checked. Our well goes down over a hundred feet with the water table fluctuating at ten to twelve feet. Even in the summer with the mercury nearing 100 degrees, the water from the bottom of our well comes out ice cold and relishable.
In the third year, our pump failed and it was a big, $1,300, expense. I carefully watched the entire replacement process, learning from start to finish what is involved. Hopefully, the new pump will last 10-20 years as it feeds our main house and the drip systems for both fruit and nut orchards along with our garden. If I had to change it myself, I am confident I would be able, with a crane and a strong person to help. If a crane was unavailable, it could still be accomplished. It would, however, be a long and grueling process.
We also have a second well, which was only 60 feet deep but with a 14-inch casing and 2½ inch pipe. Both wells feed into the same well house, which is 250 feet from our house. After reading many points of view and talking to some of the old timers, we decided to install an old-fashioned windmill on the second well. It still has the 5 hp pump, as well as a 1-inch pipe hooked to the windmill. I rarely run the pump, except to cycle it a couple times a year. Under the windmill, I built a 3-way bypass valve at the well head, and there are two 1½-inch pipes going underground in different directions to above ground, 1000-gallon holding tanks. These tanks are strategically located uphill from stands of conifer trees that were planted in the last two years.
Stands of Trees
I varied the stands of trees to include Arizona Cypress, Afghan Pines, Leyland Cypress, Italian Cypress, Thuja Arborvitae, Common Spruce, and a few Atlas Weeping Cedars thrown into the mix. I wanted wind breaks as well as visual screening. Some were planted purposely close, so as they matured I would have extra firewood as I thinned them. All told, in the two Cyprus groves, as I call them, there are well over 100 trees. In just a few years, the trees we planted that were smaller than us have grown bigger than any of us, and if we are still around in 5-10 years we will have a wonderful forest where none existed before.
My initial goal was to plant a total of 500 trees in five years on this property. At last count, if you include the blackberries, grapes, and pomegranates, I am pretty close to my goal. I envisioned the day when I would have my own little nature park with many distinct ecosystems and much wildlife contained within. The first priority was fruit and nut trees. Looking back now, what I have gleaned is balance is key, just like in nature. I became somewhat obsessed with my first-year goal of creating a fruit and nut orchard, thus laying the groundwork for future food independence.
In years one, two, and three, we completed two orchards consisting of honey crisp apples, three kinds of pears, two kinds of plums, cherries, almonds, peaches, nectarines, pecans, and one variety of walnuts. In total, the two orchards contain a diverse mix of over 80 fruit trees. This year was the first that we saw the true potential of what we have done. We harvested numerous apples, pears, plums, nectarines, and peaches. They were all spaced throughout the season. What we don’t eat, give away, or preserve will find its way to our animals.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue to write about our food plan and move through our other priorities accomplished.
- What We Have Done So Far- Part 2, by N.F. (Active on 11/04/17)
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 73 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- 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.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- 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,
- 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),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- 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,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value), and
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- 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,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
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.
A very admirable endeavor and I look forward to the second installment. My own story, while similar is not quite as life changing. We moved from the streets of Chicago to a one stop light village with a total population of 1,200.
It took a while to shed the heightened level of anxiety that comes with living in the city but we too, have blended in to our community.
I find it funny that our timelines are nearly identical. I too, in my mid forties made the big move to a rule life. I had always lived on smaller acreage, but worked in a very large city on the west coast. I moved to 80 acres in MO in 2012.
I too bought a older home that needed a great amount of work to make it even close to what we wanted. My wife had a hard time with the home part of the move, but as we have completed project after project on the house, I think she has found great comfort in the house and area we have chosen. Maybe some day I will write a post about the things that we did that seemed to be good choices, and those that maybe were not so great. Good luck, and I look forward to reading the rest of your article.
What general part of Missouri? I wish you would write a little about your choices & outcomes. We’re in MO and are always interested in others experiences
You know about 5 years back I planted raspberry hybrid vines that produce Spring & Fall. What a great payoff over time. I wish you well with your 500 tree and vine goal over 5 years. Could pay back for 50 years or more. Thinking ahead saves effort & resources geometrically over time.
Be careful where you plant the walnut. It is a toxic tree that has been known to kill fruit trees via its root system.
Your hard work and percerviance may only manifest after you’re gone but I believe your ideals will live on for generations to come through your bloodline and those who head your word there are times in history when men of influence do not get any note you Norman Franklin are one of those men God speed !