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Zeiger homestead

Looking for the Perfect Plot

We live in a fast world full of real estate booms and crashes, flipping houses and quick profits. My hometown of Phoenix, AZ was a place where the housing market crash was deeply present and painful. I left Phoenix when this was at its worst and partly because of it. The people around me were living in minor mansions without a dime to spend. They were panicked and broke with payments to make. This fear and poverty rippled through and made its way into every industry I could have found work in. It was a struggle to get paid and there were no other jobs to be found. So I left and vowed never to put myself into the deep debt that these people had found themselves in.

As my travels slowed down, I found myself on Salt Spring Island, BC where I met Nick. He had worked hard and saved his money to devote his time to learning Natural Building. He believed that there were better ways to build in the North and he wanted the sanity and stability of knowing how to build his own home. When we moved up to Alaska to learn how to live simply with the bounty around us, we knew that our first home would come slowly since we had no interest in buying a house that was already built.

For those of you who have spoken with us over the last year, you know that Nick and I are on a serious hunt for land in this great state of Alaska. We’ve looked at small and large plots alike and all seem to have their own benefits and challenges. As I look at all these different spaces, I thought I’d share some of the most important things that we have been considering for those of you who may be searching as well.

‘Leave No Trace’ isn’t exclusive to the trails. We are very wary of placing our home amongst pristine, virgin land. We would much rather rehabilitate a piece of land that has already had some human impact. Even if there is already a house or other structures on the land, we would prefer this to sprawling into untouched space and having to cut down a lot of trees.

Where is the sun? If you plan on having a epic garden to grow your family’s food, this is number one. Also, if you live in a cold place in the winter, this is critical for mental sanity. Are you going to have to clear a lot of land to see the sun? Are you going to go broke baking pies for the neighbors so they’ll cut down all their trees? Make sure you have great access to the sun. This usually means you have a good southern exposure.

Bring a shovel along. We’ve gotten some funny looks but we like to do a little dig to see what’s down there. If we hit a bunch of bedrock right away, we know we’re in for a challenge. Yes, you can sheet mulch and build your own soil but the better the dirt is to start, the faster you’ll be growing your own food. Also, is it all silt and clay? That’s going to be a toughy.

Steep slopes are slippery. Not just for trying to set a foundation but also for trying to haul up your supplies and cut garden beds. Tiered gardens are beautiful but a lot of work. The steeper the slope, the harder the work. Don’t forget developing flat land for potential greenhouses, hoop houses, sheds, livestock, etc. A gentle slope is great, however, for drainage and can be wonderful for sun exposure if it is sloping the right direction.

Diversity in the landscape makes a home your own. Don’t discount the plot with the funky rock outcroppings or the muskeg down the way. Permaculture teaches us to use all the elements of land and the more diversity, the more opportunity. Consider the earthworks you can do to cater the land to your needs such as putting in swales to capture water or digging a pond. Flat open land is terribly boring, don’t discount the quirks of land with personality.

The above photo is from our friend’s, the Zeigers, homestead in Haines, AK. Learn more about their beautiful life on the bay at http://www.akzeigers.com.

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2 Responses to Looking for the Perfect Plot

  1. sisterkaite@gmail.com January 6, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    What a beautiful photo…I would love to live there if it was further south than Alaska. We live on a sailboat on an island called Marco Island, off the coast of Florida. We are now very spoiled at this latitude and hope to move to land soon as we are aging. This article has been good for me to read and learn from as we look for where to live to grow our food now that we have decided to move to land. This was a very big decision for us because of the life on a sailboat is different in many ways. We now have to grow our food in the cockpit but we have an all year growing season, however, there are not many foods to grow when it is this hot that we can grow on a boat. I never would have thought to take a shovel. Very novel idea that is totally perfect for where we are looking. We have chosen nothing firmly yet, but decided to look in West Virginia first because that is my home state and I know it best. Also, we are thinking of Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, or somewhere like those places. We may simply get a place north of here to grow in the summer and then can our food and come back down here for the winter. We will see what the future brings and especially what we encounter and find along the way. I am certain that, just a you did, we will learn as we go about the different lands we look through. Thanks for this article and I love the photo. Kaite Delaney Goo9dland FL

  2. linncrescentia@yahoo.com January 26, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    I enjoy reading you and commend you on all of your endeavors; they are worthy and noble. Though I am not from the South or the West, we have much in common. I have experienced many of the same things that you so eloquently write about, and have seen others make the same mistakes, as I too have vowed not to get into such debt. In my middle-sized city of Grand Rapids in MI, public and private partnerships have paved the way for massive scale revitalizations, not only of infrastructure but of business culture, and entertainments that go beyond our normal Ballet, Opera, Symphony, Theatre, Symposiums, the Botanical Garden Programs as well. We never got out of the Recession of 2000, before another recession hit, but we learned that only we were going to save our city, it’s services, our jobs; not the government, not anyone else, but we did save these things and we continue to expand upon them. Our housing market recovered, our city is vibrant and fun, filling with residents and great things to get involved with, and I know this may sound strange but, it’s not enough for me because I do not want any of that; I want more. This is why I have elected to create an account here, my first account with a company such as yours, for my own business. I think we have the same noble ideals, the same high standards, and similar climate needs: our high temperature here today is going to be 20 degrees. I need seeds that will sprout organic, historic/heirloom, open-pollination, hardy, plants that can withstand heat and humidity or heat with a bit of dryness. It needs to be a variety that comes early, is a bit cold hardy, and isn’t bothered by changable weather of rains and winds: this can be tough. : ) I generally favor Michigan native food plants of the Native Americans and 1800s French garden varieties.
    Oh the picture here looks So good, it looks pure and clean and filled with the wild, natural, beauty that I require! Your Beloved, Nick, he shares a love of natural architecture with me? I wonder, have you both ever considered building into the top of a small hillside, complete with skylights, light tubes, light wells, and walk-out french doors? You can heat with geo-thermal heat and have this with wind and solar power. If you plan to keep animals, they can live in the lower part of the hillside with some of the same creature comforts you and your husband plan to enjoy. The earth provides natural wall insulation as there really isn’t any where for the heat to escape to. Forest Fires, Thieves, and Tornados all pass right over, leaving the house untouched! I don’t know the particulars of the Alaskan climate, but it sure would keep you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. : )
    We in Michigan have a lot of bounty here too, seems it’s always some type of hunting season and I have no desire to live in a prebuilt house either.
    Thanks for the great tips!
    Great Good Luck finding your perfect spot!
    Sisterkaite, I hope that you will find your happy place soon too.

    Love and Blessings,
    Linn

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