Tiny Living

I tried to run a hobby farm for a week. Here’s what I learned.

Author: Ben Kitchen

One cold day in March I found myself unexpectedly and solely responsible for a small farmstead in Southern Ontario.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t new to this. I’ve watched my in-laws manage the property for almost five years. But I’d never done it quite so entirely by myself.

My future wife and I will be living on this property in our tiny home this summer, so I took this opportunity to really try to understand what we are signing ourselves up for. 

Photo: Ben Kitchen

So, here are a few quick lessons I’ve learned from a week of solo managing a hobby farm in winter.

Lesson #1: Firewood is hard work

If your tiny home will be heated with firewood, you need to consider proximity and path to the woodpile, especially in the winter. 

If, like me, you’ve spent most of your life in the city, moving out to a farmstead is a big deal. 

It’s Canada. It’s March. It’s cold. The remnants of storms flung crisp air around and brought snow every other day.

I had it easy. The firewood was already cut, stacked, and dried. I didn’t really have any hard work to do.

I had it easy. The firewood was already cut, stacked, and dried. I didn’t really have any hard work to do. It was all ready to come in, stored around 200 feet from the front door.

And that was the thing. There’s only so much you can carry in your arms, even if the dog’s bringing a big stick for you too. We usually use a wheelbarrow or a tractor. Unfortunately, when the snow’s 12 inches deep, you can’t push the barrow through, and the breakable features (like new pavement!) are hidden, making driving the 2.5 tons of tractor somewhat treacherous.

So, by hand it is. But how many trips am I willing to make, trudging through the snow, only to find the logs have become damp and I can’t get the fire hot enough for the black walnut to take?

The answer is, apparently, as many trips as it takes. But I’ve learned that you’ll have to accept the tedious nature of this kind of work, never mind the much more significant effort of chopping!

My advice? Keep your friends close and your firewood closer. 

Lesson #2: Loneliness might be difficult (but manageable)

When buying a tiny home for solo living, I suggest allowing space for creature company.

If you’re moving into a tiny home in Canada, chances are you’re somewhere in the country rather than the city centre.

Being part of a tiny home community is a brilliant way to live. However, if you rent land in an otherwise secluded corner of the country – get used to being alone.

I don’t mind being by myself or alone with my other half for days or even weeks at a time. Actually, I love it. I find a certain peace comes with your routine and going without seeing anyone else for a long time.

In these modern times, one’s rarely confined to one place. I could have jumped in the car and visited a friend anytime. Amazon delivered a parcel or two, and a few friends came to see me.

Photo: Ben Kitchen

But the quiet will shock you if you’re moving from a city block to a remote corner of Canada in your tiny home. There’ll be no road noise, quiet chatter, or sirens. Instead, raccoons and skunks scuttle through the darkness, and coyote howls cut through the air like the creepiest thing you’ve ever heard. Honestly. Spooky shivers.

If you’re not going to see anyone for days at a time, I definitely recommend pets. And pets with jobs! Our dog is also effectively an alarm system and our guard. As a cane corso, she’s more than enough to drive unwanted company swiftly away. The two cats are incredibly effective in rodent control (sometimes disgustingly so).

But they’re also great company, especially on those quiet evenings when you have nothing left to do other than sit by the fire. In the meantime, have friends and family pop over as much as you need.

Lesson #3: You’ll always be busy

Being even semi self-sufficient is a full-time job.

It’s good to be tired. Again, I’ve found this to be a dramatic change from city life. Let me explain this by walking through the typical life of a city dweller. Someone might wake up, have breakfast, drive to work and remain there from 9 to 5, come home, eat dinner, relax, and go to bed.

Living in your tiny home in the countryside isn’t going to be this easy, especially if you’re off-grid. I’m fortunate enough to work from home most of the time, saving me time most people spend commuting.

In winter, the main extra jobs on a farmstead are maintaining your heat, animal care, snow and ice control, and, in our case, working with vegetable seedlings. That’s on top of all the regular household chores.

In your tiny home, this will involve trekking in and chopping firewood or checking the gauges on your propane tank. Realistically, snow and ice should be removed from the roof as soon as possible, even though most are built to withstand significant weights. Pathways and steps should also be shovelled and swept so you don’t trudge mud into your small space.

Starting seedlings also takes considerable time, effort, and space (ours won’t fit in our tiny home – we’re getting a greenhouse).

And finally, animals. Horses need hay and water; if the hoses freeze, I must carry it out two buckets at a time. The same goes for the chickens’ water, never mind collecting eggs, buying and topping up their feed, and cleaning out the coop. The dog (especially because she’s so big) needs a long walk and to eat (one large meal per day, in her case). And the cats? Ah, they’re easy enough. A bit of food and water twice per day, and they otherwise live outside.

Photo: Ben Kitchen

On paper, it might not seem like much. However, I definitely didn’t appreciate how much effort it would require to keep on top of all this, bearing in mind that you’re doing most of these jobs every day, twice per day (morning and night).

In short, you’ll be exhausted at the end of the day. Most nights, I was ready for bed by 9pm and sometimes even earlier (7pm is my current record!). However, it’s totally worth it, and you’ll feel a level of satisfaction you’ve never come across before. I guarantee it.

Lesson #4: Something’s gone wrong? You’re up

As the saying goes, if the women don’t find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.

Imagine living in a tiny home on a farm or country property in Canada. What happens when something goes wrong? For instance, your drinking water hose could freeze in a winter storm. The electrical connector might malfunction. It’s possible that your car doesn’t start on a chilly morning.

These things either rarely happen in the city or, when they do, you simply sit back and wait for someone else to fix it. Power outage? Wait for the company to get it back online. Car won’t start? CAA or mechanically-minded neighbours or family members.

You’re more isolated in the country, and will need to rely on yourself for most repairs and learn how your tiny home works to best repair it. There are always professional services if you need them, of course, but it’s much more difficult for them to reach you.

I wasn’t in a tiny home while in charge of the farm; I was in a conventional farmhouse. Here’s a list of ‘what went wrong’ in just a week:

  • The bathroom sink developed a slight leak in its drainage pipe. I was snowed in. Tools out and time to figure out how this stuff actually works!
  • The miniature horse was bullying the horse and donkey – or maybe he’s just a competitive eater? Either way, it took time to stay with them and make sure everyone ate the right amount.
  • For some reason, the chickens started eating much more food for a few days, so I had to top up.
  • A neighbour’s mail was delivered to our mailbox by mistake, so that had to be returned.
  • The storage freezer we use for holding stock was accidentally unplugged, possibly by a cat. Thankfully, everything seems to have refrozen before thawing too much!

Now, none of these are major problems. But they quickly add up, and before long, you find yourself with all your free time spent working away at persistent little issues like these.

Lesson #5: Balancing self-sufficiency and common sense

Self-sufficiency doesn’t have to mean cutting yourself off from the world.

This is the last thing that living alone in the Canadian countryside has taught me, especially concerning tiny homes. If you’re buying a tiny home, chances are you’re looking for an affordable, minimalist place to live with a much greater focus on self-sufficiency. That’s great, and I’m 100% behind that.

However, despite the romanticized versions I’ve watched on YouTube, I’ve come to understand that self-sufficiency isn’t the be-all and end-all. Society does have its benefits.

Self-sufficiency technically means living 100% on your own. That means generating your own power, growing and raising your own food, getting your own water, and having your own shelter (a tiny home!). But that life isn’t for me.

Drawing a line is essential, recognizing what you can provide for yourself and what you can’t.

Drawing a line is essential, recognizing what you can provide for yourself and what you can’t. For example, we’re all about growing our own food, and we’re connected to a solar feed-in tariff, so most of our power is ‘free’. But there’s a limit. If the sun isn’t shining, we use electricity from the grid. If the year yields a particularly poor crop, we buy from the grocery store. Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are irreplaceable. I’m also happy but slightly embarrassed to admit that Amazon has helped me out several times with same-day delivery.

So, while I couldn’t recommend self-sufficiency and tiny living on farmsteads more, I’ve also learned to appreciate what we have available in Canada. Drawing a sensible line is definitely vital.

Would I live out here in a tiny house? Absolutely.

Living on a hobby farm,  especially in a tiny home, is an active job. There’s time to sit back and relax, but only after a day’s hard work.

In short, I’ve come to appreciate that slog. I’ve never slept better. And although I’m glad for the company once again, I can’t recommend country life enough.

I know it doesn’t seem like it on paper, but trust me – if you’re moving from the city, it’ll shock your system.

I know it doesn’t seem like it on paper, but trust me – if you’re moving from the city, it’ll shock your system. It’s unnerving at first, but you’ll come to love it.

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