Yes, it is possible to make your dreams come true at any age! Twelve years ago, at age 52 and after 31 years of marriage, I found myself divorced and ready for a new chapter in my life. I had always been rather self-sufficient, so being alone was not a daunting situation. My former hobby– singlehanded sailing– gave me the courage and confidence to start a new life. After the divorce, I lived aboard my boat for a couple of years, but something in my spirit kept telling me to go back to the land. When I was a child, a lot of my relatives lived in the country and were always self-sufficient. They had gardens, cows, chickens, and lived rather simply. I remember those wonderful Sundays when we would leave the suburbs, drive out to their places in the country, and share a meal with them. The afternoons consisted of rifle practice, milking the cow, taking a horseback ride, and enjoying the country life. So, whether it was a yearning to return to a less hectic life or God telling me to prepare for what may be coming, I don’t know. I just know it was the best decision I have ever made. Although my friends and family would prefer for me to be a “cougar” and find a young man to do the chores, I have found my life as an SFSH (Single Female Senior Homesteader) quite rewarding!
I started with six acres. It was in rough shape, and my family pitched in to help. At that time, my 70ish year-old step-dad and mom came out every week to help. I could not have done it without them. We would work hard and then sit down and laugh about all of us old people doing such physical work. We weren’t going to let our minds tell us we were too old to start something new. I had a RV shed constructed, and I moved on the property to live while I started to develop a plan! A year later the land next to me became available, so I purchased an additional 5.5 acres. I converted the metal RV building into a small house a few years later. I put in a wood stove for heat, and the nine foot ceilings and lots of insulation helps to keep it cool in the summer time.
Simplicity, self sufficiency, and safety are the keys to having a homestead as a senior. I think about all projects with this in mind. Except for a few things, everything here is designed for someone who isn’t very strong, is mechanically challenged, and is concerned more about function than looks! I want to be as self-sufficient as possible for as long as possible. Yes, it is hard work, but that is what keeps you healthy!
I purchased a small tractor in the very beginning with the idea of using it to till, clear the land, cut the weeds, et cetera, but I quickly found that attaching the implements to it was quite an effort if you are alone and not very strong. I use it mainly to haul stuff in the bucket or pull small downed trees out of the woods so I can use the fire wood. Tilling and clearing brush is only done when I have help. It had a mechanical issue last year, and I realized that while it is a wonderful tool to have, I cannot repair it. So I started to really think about how I would need to operate if I could not use “the beast”. I think we all need a bit of Amish cultural thinking at times! A garden that requires a tiller, a pasture that requires cutting, heavy stuff that needs lifting– all of this is dependent on the use of a mechanical thing. What happens when you can’t call the dealer and have them come pick up the non-working equipment? This is something most of the prepper community needs to address. A lot of us just can’t fix the complicated mechanical equipment found in most cars, trucks, and farm tools.
I opted for raised bed gardening and small animals. Attaching the tiller, brush hog, or middle buster to the tractor was not going to be an option, so I needed something simple and sustainable. I started with 4 x 4 beds with concrete block perimeters. Then, I added row type raised bedding using 8″ x 10′ x 2″ lumber. The rows are far enough apart that I can use a self-propelled mower between them. After four or so years of raised bed gardening, I prefer the concrete blocks. I need help to make repairs or replace the wooden ones, but I can put the individual blocks in place without assistance. So, all future beds will be concrete.
Farm animals are small and easily managed. Rabbits, Nigerian Dwarf and Nubian goats, chickens, and ducks can provide milk and eggs. While I do use the rabbits and chickens for meat from time to time, I have become mostly a vegetarian, simply because I don’t like to process the animals. The rabbit manure is fantastic for the garden, and I do sell rabbits if we have several litters at the same time. Providing for the animals in my care, during a grid down situation, is a major concern. I am slowly transitioning the rabbits to a more natural diet, so I can feed them without using much of the commercial pellets. This is a long process, because most rabbits will experience extreme digestive distress (often fatal) if you try to switch them to a grass and vegetable diet quickly. You also must make sure you provide a variety of wild plants to make sure they get the proper nutrients.
Chickens are free roamers, so they get a little commerical feed just to keep them close to the barn. Otherwise, they can manage well foraging on their own. The goats and miniature donkeys get a commercial feed daily, but they also graze to keep down the grass and weeds. If necessary, they could survive without the feed. I do keep a variety of grass seed on hand to reseed pastures.
Fencing and cages are always in need of repair. When I can, I hire help to take care of fence issues, but the electric netting mentioned below allows me to contain the animals if help isn’t available. Cages for small chickens and rabbits can be made with PVC pipe and the appropriate wire. I am currently getting about five years of use out of cages before they need repair or replacement. I keep PVC pipe, connectors, and wire on hand so I can make new cages or containment pens.
Below is a list of items that every single senior homesteader, male or female, will find helpful:
- Dip nets– They are not just for fishing! I catch wayward chickens and rabbits with them, because I can’t chase down escapees! Get one with the longest handle you can find.
- Small live traps– Again, these are for catching escapees or small predators.
- Electric netting fence– This stuff has made my life so much easier. I can set up a temporary containment pasture all by myself using this netting and a 12-volt battery! It will contain goats and fowl with clipped wings.
- Scythe– Yes, I’m talking about the old fashioned type of grass/hay-cutting hand implement. I really hate a weed eater! The noise, vibration, and difficulty of starting them drives me crazy. This is quiet, quick, and keeps me in shape. In a grid down environment, I do not want to use my precious gas for weed/grass control. I can keep a pathway open to the barn, house, and elsewhere using the scythe. I gave up keeping the fence rows clear of grass. I get as close as I can with the scythe or mower and have learned to live with that.
- Headlamps– You may feel dorky using them, but they keep us old folks from tripping over stuff with our hands free and still able to see.
- Baby monitors– I put one in the window of the barn, and I can hear everything that goes on at night. A simple $30 investment gives me a great sense of security. I can hear a car coming up the drive or a goat bellowing in labor.
- Hand Carts– Why strain your back, when you can use a tool to do the work for you! As we get older, lifting and carrying heavy objects can be a daunting task and puts us at risk for injury. I have two– one large and one small hand cart!
- Small generators– I have two Honda 2000 watt generators that have proven themselves over the years. You can purchase an additional parallel kit to combine the two and have 4000 watts readily available for larger energy needs. These small, quiet generators allow me to pick them up and move them around. They weigh under 50 pounds! Also, they are very energy efficient. They will run four hours on one gallon of gas at full load or eight hours at 1/4 load! So, if you just need lights and a fan, they will run a long time!
- Power Gear Loppers– I have tried a lot of loppers, pruners, etc. and these, made by Fiskar, allow me to cut through 2″ branches with ease. I use them almost daily to cut branches for my goats when they can’t graze freely and to keep our trails open.
- Home Defense Plan – I have a concealed carry permit and always have a shotgun or carbine with me, when I am working in the woods. However, I prefer to deter than to defend! The best thing for this is a big dog! I have several. Nothing comes on this property without all of them sounding an alarm. They are not grid dependent so if the lights go out, I still have an alarm system.
- Simple Handguns– I like revolvers, because I don’t have to worry about springs, et cetera, found in the semi-automatic models. It is easy to clean, and speed loaders act like magazines! I prefer them for safety reasons and reliability.
- Small Electric Chain Saw– My lightweight little Honda generator runs an electric chainsaw with ease. I load the generator in the bucket of the tractor and take it to the location where I need to cut the small downed trees for firewood. I don’t need huge logs for the wood stove. Again, I can do this without help!
One item that is not a “tool” but certainly necessary when you are alone is the “Priority List” that will help you manage your day. I used a “to do” list, when I was working, so why not here! If we treated our homestead as if it were our paying job, then we would get far more accomplished. There is always an abundance of work, and I find that I am easily distracted. A good list keeps me focused. It helps me purchase the right material, look for sales or used items, and shift my efforts from Plan A to Plan B when necessary. If I can’t plant those seedlings today, then I go down the list and find something else that needs to be done! Remember TIME is your most precious commodity. It is limited and non-renewable.
Homesteading is always a learning experience. Gardening isn’t for sissies. Animal husbandry can be heartbreaking (when the goat kids you have been anxiously waiting for are stillborn), and maintenance is a challenge. The physical demands keep you in shape, and there is no time to fret over things you can’t change, thus reducing emotional stress. I have been blessed with good health, so I can take all of this in stride. I always want to depend on God for his mercy and blessings, and I pray God will allow me to be self-sufficient for a very long time.