How to Build a Homestead: Clearing our driveway by hand!

May 26, 2019

If you are new to this blog, or series of How to Build a Homestead, our family of four is building an off grid tiny house and self sufficient homestead in the Canadian wilderness and we are sharing our projects and what we learn along the way with others who want to do the same!

Our family goal is to spend as much time together as possible so we try to work as little as we can outside the homestead and away from the family. When it comes to the bigger projects like renovating our camper, clearing a driveway, putting in a culvert or building our tiny house, we are always looking for as many ways as possible to save money on building materials, supplies and labour.

In this post I am going to share with you how we cleared our raw, undeveloped property for our driveway and off grid cabin site by hand and chainsaw rather than hiring someone to bull doze it all in a half day.

Clearing land for a driveway by hand. BEFORE

Why didn’t we bulldoze our driveway…

Before I get into how we actually did it, I wanted to bring attention to why this could be a more gentle choice. Clearing land by hand is much less expensive, although it is very time intensive. Renting a bulldozer or hiring someone to clear your property can range from $800 into thousands of dollars depending on the amount you need cleared but it is also very invasive, killing the microorganisms in your soil, harmful to the tree root systems, destroys wildlife habitats and your property’s micro ecosystem. And sure, cutting your trees down with a chainsaw is also invasive, the impact is far lessened.

Trees can be selectively chosen to stay to become a part of your finished landscape or be removed. Where as if a bulldozer were to come and clear the path, it would destroy everything in its path.

Branches, bushes and limbs can still be tossed aside for wildlife to take shelter in or use as a food source. The forest floor and microorganisms can remain and even thrive on trimmings from the trees being left on the forest floor as a natural mulch similar to what you would find there anyway.

I recently watched a YouTube video where a family building their homestead in the forest opted to bulldoze their driveway and house location choosing to keep a giant Oak Tree in the middle of the property but because they opted to bulldoze, necessary earth was removed from the tree base and many roots were damaged resulting in the death of their favourite feature tree for their homestead.

Because we had the time, we are super frugal and don’t want to spend a lot of money paying someone else to build our homestead, we opted to clear it by hand and chainsaw! 

Clearing land by hand and chainsaw!

How to clear land for a driveway by hand!

Decide on your driveway and house location.. 

Your driveway is basically going to divide your property in half wherever you decide to put it so taking the time to consider how you want to be able to use your property now and in the future can save your bacon! Do you plan to have a large pasture, gardens or any future buildings? Find your property lines and consider where you want to place your house and any other buildings on the property.

We decided to put our driveway off to the side, about 15 feet off our property line, then have it turn 90 degrees towards our cabin location.

Reasons why we chose this area:

  • because our road is made of dusty dirt and I wanted a buffer between it and my windows!
  • I wanted privacy and a forest buffer between our home and the road.
  • Because we live in the sticks there are all kinds of ATVs roaring up the road.
  • It also saves the front of our property from being divided in half because although we just want to be surrounded by the forest and wilderness now, in twenty years, we may want a large open pasture to raise animals.

Choose the path of least resistance..

Once we had the location for our driveway chosen, we looked for a path of least resistance. Our property had been logged around 80 years ago so our forest is quite young with just a few large trees, but dense with small bushes and thin, tall trees fighting for sunlight.

We were lucky to have an area that had been cleared previously for a soil, water and sewer test with a path from the excavator so we went from there.

Clearing forest for our driveway.

Start clearing the trees..

There really is no right way do to this, folks! Just get in there and start clearing the trees that are growing in your future driveway. When we first started clearing our driveway it was still March and there was about a foot of snow in the forest but we chose this time to get started because the leaves wouldn’t be in full bloom, the trees were accessible, and the mosquitoes were still hibernating!

How we did it:

  1. We used a RYOBI 46cc 18’ chainsaw to cut the larger and smaller trees.
  2. We then de-limbed trees we thought we could repurpose for firewood, camp firewood or fence posts and set them in larger piles.
  3. We started piles of the branches of trees we de-limbed and brush off to the side of our driveway about every 20 feet. This can be left for wildlife to eat or use as a shelter or mulched at a later date (we noticed rabbits were flocking to these piles to eat!).
  4. We worked in 15 foot sections, cutting, de-limbing, sorting and tidying before starting the next section of driveway until we reached 150 feet, or the end of our driveway.
AFTER Clearing our driveway by hand and chainsaw!

Because we started clearing our driveway in the snow, we were left with stumps around 12 inches high everywhere once it melted so we needed to go back and start trimming the stumps to the ground.

Permaculture driveway!

Nothing was wasted from clearing our driveway. The piles of bushes and tree limbs will be mulched into a permaculture back to eden style vegetable garden. The trees have all been chopped up into firewood and kindling and stacked into a holz hausen, and a little was burned to cook our dinners while we worked in a dutch oven!

Our next step is to lay down some gravel so we are able to drive our RV over our DIY Culvert and onto the property!

How to clear land for a driveway and cabin

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