Homestead Income: Finding Your Niche

I get a lot of questions about aquaponics.  The same is true about the grapes that I’ve begun to grow.

I’ve noticed that the people who do the asking can be divided into two groups:  ones that are intrigued/passionate about the topic and those who are interested in an homestead income.

Truthfully, I live in both camps.  I love living on the homestead and the responsibilities and freedoms that it imparts.  I’m also excited about making the land pay the mortgage bill or knocking down my grocery list.

Sepp Holzer is a farmer that I admire.  He’s been able to take his farming methods and develop a market for what he grows.  (here’s a link to my review of a book he wrote)I need to do the same thing.  I need to find a crop, livestock or cottage industry that will provide recurring income.

Can I grow and sell enough grapes to make $5,000 a year?  I don’t know.  I’m going to try.  I’d like to make $5,000 a year or more with aquaponics too.  I don’t know what the market will be, so it’s a gamble.

What will work where you live?  Goat’s milk might be an option.  You may laugh (or cringe) but goat’s milk seems to sell between $5 to $8 a gallon.

You need to have a plan before you jump.  If you’re going to sell milk,how many animals will you need?  How much pasture will they require?  Will you have to buy food for them?  Pipe water to them?  What about expenses like vetrinarian bills?

Originally, I planned to sell a variety of items at a farmer’s market.  This didn’t take much planning.  I had to make some calculations once I decided to focus on grapes.

Example:  Let’s say someone wants to make wine with my grapes.  They want enough grapes to make a barrel’s worth of juice.  It turns out that they’ll need a lot of grapes.  Depending on what they’re doing, they may need 1 or 2 tons of grapes!

A ton is 2,000 lbs.  I’ve found out that I can expect to get 5 lbs of grapes from each vine. This means that I would need to have 400 vines to produce a ton of grapes.  Maybe I could do it with less, but I need to be conservative.

Terrace with newly planted muscadine grape vine

Terrace with newly planted muscadine grape vine

I only have so much land to set aside for grapes.  Can I get 400 grape vines on the land?  I need to calculate how much room 1 vine will take, how many vines in a row, the space needed between the rows.

Let’s say I figured out that I have enough land.  I need to figure out what equipment I need to prepare the ground for vines.  I need to calculate the cost of the hardware to support the vines (trellis, sprinklers, etc).  How much will the vines cost?  If I order 400 vines, will I be able to get them in the ground fast enough?  All these questions matter and more.

Sometimes, you just don’t have the money to get started.  Maybe you don’t know if your plan will work and you aren’t willing to sink a lot of money into a roll of the dice.

Try doing it on a small scale.  I invested $500 into an aquaponics trial.  That’s less than a tenth of what I would spend if I had gone “whole hog”.  If the test doesn’t work out, I can use the parts for other things.

aquaponics grow bed

Don’t count on your friends.  I’m not being mean here.  Don’t count on your friends when you’re making a business plan.  Let’s say you’re going to sell eggs or butter.  You have 5 friends that say they’ll buy from you.  Don’t make your plan rest on sales to them.  Life happens and maybe they won’t have the money, have to move, etc.  This way, it’s a happy pleasure when you work with your friends, not an expectation/demand.

Don’t bet on one thing.  A few years ago, I decided to start my own business.  I knew that I couldn’t expect steady income, especially at first.  My wife had always wanted to go to real estate school, so she went.  She had experience with real estate and we figured that her income could keep us stable.

The housing market promptly imploded.

We were okay because we had two plans for income.  It wasn’t pretty but we managed to get through it.

Keep a straight job and build up secondary income.  This may not work for you, but it’s the best plan for most.  I’m 14 hours away from home right now, because that’s where the work is.  This is what I need to do to make sure I can keep the homestead.

The ultimate goal?  I want to be on the stead all of the time.  I want it paid off.  I don’t think my wishes are unique.

Best of luck planning your wishes to come true!


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