There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.
August 16, 2006 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I would love to live in the countryside but I am a thinker - not a laborer - in fact I am highly averse to manual labour. My wife is terrified that she will be doing all the work. Am I heading for trouble?

There is an area I want to live that is only a 20 minute drive to a major centre. I love the open spaces, the privacy and the feeling of owning a generous patch of earth. I am interested in acquiring about 20 acres. I have money for casual hired help.

However I don't do intensive handyman stuff, it would be murder to do something as tediously repetitive as fencing or painting the house, or cleaning out a water tank. I like animals and could care for them. I don't mind lawn-mowing while listening to music. I could chop firewood for a good cause. I'm not scared of snakes or spiders. I don't mind a bit of dirt. I'm not one to panic in a crisis.

Do people like me have any hope out there?
posted by zaebiz to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you buy a newer low maintenance place like a ranch style home, without a lot of landscaping to take care of, I don't see the problem. Mowing the lawn is more than half the battle. But be sure to calculate how long and how often you will be mowing that 20 acre spread!
posted by LarryC at 3:42 PM on August 16, 2006

If you have money anything can work. If you don't have sufficient money and buy into a situation where you will one day have to choose between moving and doing labor you may be up the creek. You may well be heading for trouble if your wife has serious concerns about the balance of labor issues.

I am biting my tongue btw.
posted by edgeways at 3:45 PM on August 16, 2006

There's nothing saying that you need to operate a three horse ranch to live in the countryside.

Let the fields go to seed, the sheds crumble, and the trails grow over. Take pictures of it in the winter and post them to the Rural Decay flickr group. Quote Whitman about the need for wild spaces.

Sounds pretty nice, actually.
posted by unixrat at 3:53 PM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: Mowing the lawn is more than half the battle.

Ummm ok ... so ... uhhh ... what's the other half?
posted by zaebiz at 3:54 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

You'd manage, however I don't think you'd have a whole lot of fun.

Have you thought about negotiating with an existing farm to buy a small section (depending on how its zoned & your local laws, this isn't too hard), maybe half an acre or an acre, to build a house on? You'd still be out there, you'd still have a large open space (the neighboring farm), you'd still have your privacy (if you built far enough away) but the area you'd be responsible for would be much smaller.
posted by devilsbrigade at 4:37 PM on August 16, 2006

Are you planning on building a house, or renovating one that's on the property? An older house can have a lot of unforseeable problems (old plumbing, bad electrical work, structural issues). Find a contractor who can walk you through the worst case scenarios and then budget for much worse than that.
Am I correct in assuming that you're hoping to live the life of a gentleman farmer? Because all farm work, from planting to animal care, requires quite a lot of tedious labor, not to mention adherence to strict schedules. If you can afford to have employees to do a lot of the work, then great; otherwise you'll find yourself working full-time at something you probably won't enjoy. Owning a big spread of land or an enormous house tether you to one spot, unless you're wealthy enough to have some one else do all the upkeep. Are you prepared to compromise your freedom to leave for days or weeks at a time? Because with a garden or animals, you'll have to plan ahead and make sure they're cared for in your absence.

And really, really make sure your wife is on board with you on this. Don't take her misgivings lightly, please.
posted by maryh at 4:41 PM on August 16, 2006

You might surprise yourself. My wife and I just bought a 50-year-old house (it's in the middle of San Diego and not out in the country, but still). It needs a fair amount of work, and although I'm pretty lazy and have always been unhandy, I'm able to muddle through what I need to muddle through. (In our last place, for example, I remodeled a tiny half-bath pretty much by myself). I don't enjoy manual labor or yardwork, but when I'm done there's a real feeling of accomplishment.

I figure it's the price of living where we want to live in a place we can afford. And I earn serious points with my wife by doing stuff we both know I'm not cut out to do. If you can look at it that way, yeah, there's hope. If I can do this, anybody can do it.

We did, however, hire people to refinish the floors and paint the place inside and out. I ain't crazy.
posted by diddlegnome at 4:54 PM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: Are you planning on building a house, or renovating one that's on the property?

Either building one or buying a very modern one already on the land. I like the sound of a low maintenance, ranch style home. I have no interest in farming - just chilling out and going for walks and adventures. I don't want to have employees but am not averse to hiring casual help.

you'll have to plan ahead and make sure they're cared for in your absence

Yes how much of an issue is being away for a month or two? Can goats and sheep (to keep the lawn down) look after themselves?
posted by zaebiz at 4:57 PM on August 16, 2006

Move to the desert. We're on several hundred acres near Joshua Tree National Park and don't really do much but enjoy the view. it's so dry here that native grasses never need mowing and fence posts last about 100 years or so. The only actial work that ever needs to be done is restoring the road after a flash flood wipes out part of it and you either hire that out or do it yourself with a tractor.

It's a lazy man's paradise.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

My situation is like what you describe. If you've not had a large country property before, you can often be surprised by the larger scope of tasks and by things you previously took for granted. Even with a low-maintenance mindset, you will spend a lot of time and energy simply because you have more land and because you are outside the city's infrastructure.

You will need a pickup truck, even if you don't plan to do much labor yourself. You will have to plan your shopping more carefully since you can't just run down to the corner store. Plan on owning a lawn tractor, a walk-behind mower, and a weedeater. You will probably also need a tow-behind sprayer, drop spreader, and trailer. (Remember: bigger lawn means bigger tools. Anything you can do to save time is worth the money.)

You will probably be on your own well and septic system. If you lose electricity, you also lose water (and sewage if you have an aerobic system). You will want to learn to do minor repairs on these systems (as well as the A/C) if you don't want to be without the services while you're waiting for a repairman. Also note that your cell phone may not be able to get a good signal and that broadband may not be available. Don't even think about livestock if you want low maintenance because there's no such thing (there's lower, but there's no low).

Most people I know who move to the country do it with the idea that they are going to spend a lot of time in manual labor around the property. You can do it, but you'll probably be throwing a lot more money at the problem than you would if you were doing most of the work yourself.
posted by forrest at 5:19 PM on August 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

Can goats and sheep (to keep the lawn down) look after themselves?

Don't even think about buying livestock if you're not into the whole manual labor thing. Just get a lawnmower. If you're that lazy, get a riding lawnmower.
posted by ook at 5:25 PM on August 16, 2006

No, goats and sheep cannot look after themselves for a month or two. I wouldn't even leave them by themselves for a week without someone coming in and checking on them/feeding them. Most domestic goats and sheep cannot live healthily on wild grasses alone. They require feed and supplements and health care (parasite control, shots, sheering and so on). They are not low maintenance, and you had best really like caring for them and not mind the work that will involve. You'd also have to consider there may be predators as well. I lost a sheep once to a domestic stray dog. Further out in the country, there are even more predators to worry about.

One of my friends lives on an old ranch, and they pretty much ignore everything but keeping the house in repair and making sure their fence-line is secure, but they don't have any animals or a garden. Those things will require attention themselves, and if you have animals, you also have to make sure that all those 20 acres are safe for them or find a way to keep them from roaming (more fences to keep in repair). So it can be done (living out in the country without wanting too much manual labor), but get or build a new house and don't mess with animals and gardens.
posted by Orb at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2006

There is nothing more mind-numbingly repetitive than caring for animals. If you can't get into a zenlike mode where you do it for the sake of doing it, please don't have any. They're not something you can enjoy when you feel like it.
posted by clarkstonian at 5:44 PM on August 16, 2006

You might surprise yourself. I am *cough* an intelligent person and I worked my way through university doing tedious manual labour (cleaning). I found that it gave me a great deal of time to think. If thinking is your thing, manual labour like weeding, fencing, cleaning etc can be fantastic because you can let yourself automatically do the work with just a wee bit of attention, and spend the larger part of your brain writing articles in your head, or whatever it is your brain wants to think about.

However, if you need external mental stimulation - and it sounds as if you do - it isn't such a great idea.

And having grown up on a 10-acre "hobby farm", I second what everybody has said about animals. They require a great deal of work and manual labour; you don't get holidays unless you've pre-arranged someone to live in and care for them, you can't just take off for a weekend on a whim. And it's not always pretty. Illnesses, pregancies and accidents can be nasty. Seconding what Orb says - we once lost four sheep to a pack of dogs from a nearby town. Two of them were pregnant ewes, and although none of them could survive, none of them were actually dead when we found them. You need to be able to put up with that kind of stuff if you have animals. They are hard work.

Is there an issue with getting a much smaller, low-maintenance property - a few acres perhaps, still in the country but not on an acutal farm? That might suit you best.
posted by andraste at 6:26 PM on August 16, 2006

It's perfectly possible to own a good large chunk of earth without doing a thing to it. You don't *have* to run a farm to live in the countryside. Look for forested land. Hilly land. Land with rocks and trees (or, as mentioned, desert). Swamp! Marsh! Bog! There's lots and lots of low maintenance land in the world.

If you don't want to mow.... don't mow.

Owning any property involves a certain amount of maintenance, unless you have a full-time handyman on staff. But just because something is "in the countryside" doesn't mean anything. If it's in the countryside AND happens to be a working dairy farm, well, you might want to avoid that situation.
posted by jellicle at 6:29 PM on August 16, 2006

in some cases, you may be able to do things like rent pasture and farm fields--so someone else will be doing all the work, but you still have that space.
posted by lester at 6:31 PM on August 16, 2006

Unless you're truly wealthy, you can't afford to have someone else do everything for you because there is always something to do. And they're not the sort of things you can tend to when you feel like it and ignore when you don't. Unless you can find some kind of reward in the work itself, as tedious and repetitive as it is, you and your property will soon be ground down by entropy, that relentless bastard.

If you are truly wealthy, then why not? The locals will be happy to take your money, though they won't like you much.

Listen to devil's brigade.
posted by vetiver at 6:41 PM on August 16, 2006

My grandpa owns about 15 acres in Florida and cares for it himself. He's up at 6am every day to take care of regular chores - something always needs tending. Most of the property is as natural as tolerable - he uses a large riding mower to take care of the grass and other underbrush - but it's still a handful.

There's vermin control (mice in the feed room to the threat of wild dogs); the garden; regular repair to the barn, house, and shed; plus regular grounds maintenance, especially in response to storms/hurricanes (dead and dying trees are a huge pain in the ass) and threat of wildfires.

He has three horses, too, and ingrained on me since I was 5 years old that the animals always came first - you fed them before you ate in the morning and stabled them down in the evening, no matter how tired you yourself may be. Hot and sweaty after riding for hours? Too bad, you gotta clean, feed, and water the horse, put it out in the paddock or stable, check the grounds, put away the tack, and then you can go clean yourself off.

Farm animals have all sorts of fun issues and regular maintenance - pills, shots, hoof trimming, etc. Dogs are easier, but the large property (will you fence it? have fun with repairs) and natural threats bring up issues that apartment dwellers are unfamiliar with.

I'll leave you with this, though -- Grandpa is 88 now and continues to care for his land and animals himself; his wife is essentially physically disabled. The land doesn't take up all his time -- he still enjoys watching TV, doing woodwork, and emailing me nearly every day. He's lived on this property for about 30 years and I know it's kept him young. He's in better shape than me, that's for sure.
posted by Sangre Azul at 7:28 PM on August 16, 2006

As someone living on 38 acres, I genuinely suggest that you pare down how much land you are interested in owning if you don't want to work on it. We have a cleared yardspace of about 3 acres and mowing/trimming that alone is a tedious affair. You could run into any number of problems if you let things grow up - including vermin and snakes that will eventually make it into and around your home. In addition, since you don't want to do your own work, be prepared to purchase farm insurance. Farm insurance will protect you if someone that is working on your land hurts themselves and decides to sue.

There are no low maintenance farm animals. Livestock is not the least bit low maintenance, and dogs and cats will have disputes with local fauna that may not turn out well. You will have feral animals that take an interest in all the pretty things that you planted. You're just basically growing food for them.

You will probably have to do without a lot of common services that include public water and sewer, which someone already mentioned. Owning a private version of these systems is costly and inconvienent. You'll occasionally be struck with how your water tastes funny or stains your clothes and then need to remedy that. You may be stuck for years with dial-up, and I'm not talking about 56K. I'm running 28.8 here.
posted by fujiko at 8:25 PM on August 16, 2006

What kind of climate are you talking about living in, zaebiz? A desert climate like Buggzzee23 describes is going to naturally be much less work than somewhere wet and lush like the UK, or somewhere that gets snowy like east-coast USA.
posted by Joh at 10:23 PM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers. It looks like I definitely have to think this through some more.

The area gets about 500-600mm (200-240 inches) of rainfall per year so it is quite dry but not desert.

Here are some specs of a place I like :
20 acres, creek frontage, pasture improved, full fencing, all-weather, fully drained driveway, 32,000 gallon water tank, 800 gallon (3000+ liter) septic tank, underground power. It says the landscape of the property is of "dry creekbed" design.
posted by zaebiz at 11:02 PM on August 16, 2006

Get yourself a copy of Walden and start planting beans with old Hank.

Also, learn to make hotcakes for your wife, and don't buy anything from Mr Haney.
posted by pracowity at 1:53 AM on August 17, 2006

Ditto everyone who says that owning country land is work. If you are willing to spend a lot of money, much of that work can be parceled out to people who will do it, but not all. Tending any livestock or raising crops, really any farm work, should be straight out of the question. I would recommend you look for acreage that already has adequate drainage, roadwork, landscaping, and a newish house that won't encumber your lifestyle with any nasty surprises. Oh, and avoid areas prone to violent weather patterns, because when weather emergencies happen, the paid labor will be spread awfully thin. It would also probably be a good idea to find an area where the homeowners are of the same socioeconomic class as you. You don't want to be the gentleman estate owner among a group of sustenance farmers. You never now how their resentment might play out.
posted by mrmojoflying at 5:27 AM on August 17, 2006

The area gets about 500-600mm (200-240 inches) of rainfall per year so it is quite dry but not desert..... It says the landscape of the property is of "dry creekbed" design. posted by zaebiz

Maybe I'm off base here, but from a Californian's perspective, 200 inches is a lot of rain and that "dry creekbed" is likely to get quite wet from time to time and wash away anything built in said "dry" creekbed. A pre-purchase geologist's report would be a wise investment.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:34 AM on August 17, 2006

500-600mm (200-240 inches)

That's 20-24 inches of rain, not 200-240.
posted by muddgirl at 5:48 AM on August 17, 2006

Response by poster: That's 20-24 inches of rain, not 200-240.

Uggh. Sorry. You're right. 20-24 inches
posted by zaebiz at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2006

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