this has been updated by Ryan Buford on Mar 21st 2019
Homesteading Is Gaining Popularity Around the Globe
Living off the land and being self-sufficient is a captivating idea for many people seeking a slower pace and a more self-sufficient life. Those committed to taking the leap into this lifestyle are working toward starting a small homestead from scratch.
Your dream may be one of convenience: reaching out your back door to find a delicious, ripe, red tomato to add to a fresh-picked salad. Or, you may want fresh, cage free eggs for breakfast or baking without paying the high market price.
The potential for a healthy, home-made breakfast, harvested from your yard and produced by your own hands is perhaps the greatest draw to the homesteading life. Even top-notch restaurants tout the farm-to-table fare is by far the best tasting meal – and for the homesteader it is one you can draw from your own backyard.
What If You Can’t Move to the Country?
Can you still homestead? Oh, yes! You can be a homesteader on less than an acre! You can have a small homestead just about anywhere you are right now!
Many small communities are opening up to the idea of access to locally grown food like produce and livestock. Farm-fresh eggs are a hot commodity among office co-workers who can tell the difference. And some micro communities are lifting restrictions to allow small-scale farming and animal husbandry.
In addition, community gardens are gaining in popularity as people see the benefit in contributing time and energy to a small garden plot for a mutual benefit: access to fresh garden produce. In some cases, yard restrictions are being lifted to allow people to scrap their front lawn in exchange for raised garden beds.
Those taking full advantage of this opportunity are making great strides in small urban homesteads and vertical gardening techniques.
Homesteading from Scratch: Where to Start
Ditch the Lawn and Draw a Plan
Whether you are maintaining a lawn or maintaining a garden, it’s important to recognize that both take a significant amount of work and care.
Weeding, manicuring, fertilizing and watering are careful considerations for both. But the final product of each is very different. One has curb appeal and the other has a more self-sufficient appeal.
If having a source of fresh, organic food is will be more important to you than having a blanket of green, luscious grass, a small homestead is likely in your future. You would rather have access to fresh tomatoes than spend an entire Sunday afternoon mowing anyway, right?
There are numerous wild edibles out there, just waiting to be discovered, but it’s hard for them to thrive under a mower’s blade.
Visualize out Your Homestead Plan
Before you dig up your lawn, throw up a chicken coop or add a fruit tree or two, you’ll want to know where the best placement for your plants and animals will be.
The homestead plan will help you decide where you want to put things, such as your garden, animals, and trees. Be mindful of the sun’s path along your property and which areas get morning sun, full sun, or evening sun.
Once you’ve got a basic idea, get ready to put the plan on paper. Using graph paper is the easiest. It’s perfect for laying out proper dimensions and scaling your yard, so you can get a true feel for the space you have. It is easy to overplant for the amount of space you have but when it comes time to maintain or harvest, this pre-planning will serve to prevent problems.
In making a homestead plan, you first need to map out your yard – All of it.
Then, grab that graph paper. Each of the squares should count for an adequate scale unit compared to your yard space.
If you have lawn furniture, patios or sprinkler systems, be sure to account for these fixtures and include them in the sketch. Add in the property boundaries, structures and other areas that won’t be impacted by the conversions you are planning for. Add in any fences, border walls, retaining walls, or dog runs if you have them.
If you are familiar with topography, draw in your elevation lines and consider any hills or valleys that could affect drainage or access. Be thorough and meticulous as this vision on paper will help to guide your planting space, irrigation, and animal pens down the road.
Working your homestead plan
When starting a homestead from scratch, the garden should be top priority. This can provide you with a few vegetables just a few weeks after sowing seeds. Additional work can be performed as the plants are growing.
If you have space for fruit trees, plant them in the early spring if possible and place them strategically. It is best to plant trees early on, so they can become established and potentially produce in the next few years. After planting, you may consider adding animals like rabbits or chickens, but proceed with caution.
Potential conflicts with local laws or neighbors could derail your animal plans, so check with the governing authority in your area. It would be an unfortunate thing to spend time and money building a chicken coop, adding chicks, and buying equipment only to have your neighbors complain and be forced to remove or harvest them.
Start with Your Garden Area
First, consider whether or not you want to till the ground and plant directly, have raised beds, or containers. Knowing which you’d like to use will give you an idea of how much space you need to save for the garden. Raised beds are a good option for smaller spaces where open soil is ideal for larger crops.
Consider the soil in your area and the plants you intend to grow as you may need to amend your soil for proper drainage, pH, and growth consistency. Containers and vertical gardens are ideal for plants that need special care, environments, or can’t be directly sown. These are also useful for apartment homesteads and leased land that cannot be tilled.
You’ll have a better idea of how much you can plant and where you should plant. Revisit your diagram to determine where to plant perennials and annuals. Delineate where recurring growth plants will be so they aren’t accidentally tilled out.
Arrangement of fruits and vegetables can pair well with flowers and herbs. In many cases, certain flowers or herbs can act as natural pesticides by simply planting them near other plants. They also help to attract helpful insects, birds and bees.
Careful Consideration with Planting Your Fruit Trees
Fruit trees will produce every year and can provide several pounds of food that can be eaten on the spot, dried, fermented or canned. Select fruit trees that compliment your diet and purpose and select varieties that grow well in your region.
Some fruit trees may produce fruit that is not edible so select your species wisely. If in doubt, look around at other fruit trees in the immediate area that are performing well.
When planting fruit trees, keep in mind that this is a long-term decision. So think of your intentions 5- 10- or 20-years out.
Location will be critical as you won’t want the canopy to impact your garden by producing too much shade, you won’t want the roots to destroy sewer, power, or gas lines, and you won’t want the branches to cause problems with structures, fences, neighbors, or overhead power lines.
And, perhaps most importantly, after you’ve decided where to plant, be sure to get your property marked for all utility locations before you dig!
Some of the most common plants for initial homestead gardens:
- Root vegetables
- Tomato varieties
- The “Three Sisters”
- Leafy Greens
- Collard greens
- Fruit trees
- Leafy Greens
- Collard greens
- Perennial fruits
If Animals Are Acceptable Where You Live, Plan to Lay out Space for Shelter, Food and Water
Small animals, like chickens and rabbits, need a safe home away from predators. They also need to be in the shade in summer and have protection from the cold, wind, and snow in winter. Once you have a general idea, keep in mind how to best serve the animals needs and how they can help out your garden.
Castings and rooting behavior can either destroy or develop your garden depending on where your animals roam. For example, our favorite place for our rabbits in the summer is underneath our apple trees.
They are safe from predators in their outdoor hutches, and they have shade. There is also plenty of pruned apple wood for them to have as a treat. The extra rabbit manure by the apple trees also helps the trees to grow!
Before setting out to buy as much as you can afford, be mindful of animal needs for foraging, security, and space. Some animals require more space and freedom to roam, where others are fine in small pens.
But be mindful that too many animals in small spaces can lead to sanitation and health problems that can destroy your dreams of a healthy homestead.
Locate Animals Away from Your Garden
As far away as possible. Trust me on this. If a chicken escapes their area, your garden could pay the price. Our chickens can still get into the garden faster than a bolt of lightning.
Animals in the garden will eat leafy tops, scrape topsoil and seeds, or completely uproot your root vegetables. By maintaining separation and fences, your garden will stand a better chance against damage caused by your livestock.
Local Laws, May Impact Your Layout and Planning
For example, chickens, pigs or goats may need to be placed a certain distance from your neighbor’s property. Ours say that they have to be at least 100 feet from a neighbor’s dwelling.
Remote locations typically have fewer restrictions. If you have a smaller yard or if you live in a highly regulated area, you could be restricted by the number or type of animals you can own.
Discreet homesteaders can sometimes barter with neighbors to prevent conflicts, but one annoying rooster may be all it takes to put an end to your flock or drive a wedge between a neighbor.
Some of the most common forms of new homestead livestock:
- Game hens
And Finally, When Starting a Homestead from Scratch, Start Small
You don’t need to add a huge garden, chickens, rabbits, goats, bees, and a greenhouse with aquaponics all in one season. As a matter of fact, DON’T.
Take a year for each if you can before adding another. This will give you time to learn and make mistakes. It’s frustrating enough for a beginner to try and figure out how to grow tomatoes without having to worry about cleaning out a chicken coop or clipping a rabbit’s nails.
Adding a goat to milk or bees, to harvest honey, can send you into overload. Take it one year at a time. Add animals, structures, crops or other homestead essentials as you gain confidence and maintain what you have.
Seven common list of common mistakes homesteaders make:
- Taking on too much
- Not preserving harvests properly or at all
- Neglecting security from predation or disease
- Cost of animal care
- Soil considerations
- Local laws/restrictions/CCNRs
- Poor garden or livestock placement
Homesteading Skills to Swear By
Once you have a grasp on your garden and your animals are living well, you can dig into other some homesteading basics to help make the most of your harvests year after year and improve your overall sustainability. Here’s a few examples to help demonstrate some of the ways you can expand your knowledge and abilities as a homesteader.
Soap making. Making your own soap is a great way to save money and prolong some of the scents of summer. This skill can be very beneficial for personal sanitation while providing a product for barter.
There is a bit of a time commitment in the process of soap making, but if batched properly it can produce a significant amount of sundries in a relatively short timeframe.
Cheeses. Making your own cheese can be challenging but very rewarding. This is a great way to use up excess milk from goats, sheep or cattle and produce a product that can have more flavor than most are used to buying over the counter. This skill takes time to perfect, but it is not as difficult as it may seem. Many home brewing suppliers sell starter kits that demonstrate the process.
Canning. Canning is a critical part of homesteading. It is the best way to preserve excess harvests for winter months. There are a few versions of canning – water bath or pressure canning – and both have different equipment and skill requirements. Either way, this is a skill that can go a long way in long-term survival on the homestead.
Knitting, crochet, and sewing. You may find that clothing gets ruined a little faster on the homestead and knowing how to mend clothes will help save costs on constant repairs to your outdoor gear.
In addition, crocheting and knitting have a place on the homestead that allows for creating blankets, winter clothing, kitchen rags, or even gifts. These are tasks for the patient and often help pass the time during dark winter months.
Woodworking. Knowing your way around a wood shop can help if you ever need to fix tools, wheel barrows, cabinets or other things around the house. But it can also be beneficial for building furniture, children’s toys or custom art.
Knowledge of wood types and uses, paired with the right tools and and a little bit of skill can go a long way in creating extra income on the homestead.
Welding. If you have heavy equipment or pre-existing structures, you may need to learn how to make your own repairs and work with metals. This is an essential skill that often helps to keep heavy equipment running during harsh workloads. But it can also help to keep fences and gates solid, or to repair structural components like barn door sliders or metal tanks and stands.
Fencing. Keeping your animals in and predators out is paramount to the survival and well-being of your animals. Fences help, but when they break or when weak spots are exposed, you’ll need to know how to fix them, stretch them, or erect them from scratch. In many cases, you won’t be able to wait on a contractor to correct a problem and will need to maintain your own fences.
Small engine repair. Whether you are tilling, mowing, weeding or snow-blowing, small engines will prove to be effective tools around the homestead. By knowing how to maintain, repair, and replace components on your small engines (and the equipment they run), you’ll be able to keep your equipment in top shape and ready for the next big job.
Tinctures/extracts. Medicines are readily available on the homestead and can be factored into your garden planning. Specific roots, flowers or leaves can be used to create essential oils or extracts.
These potent agents concentrate healing properties of plants and are fairly easy to create. However, they take a significant amount of plant mass and study to determine what desired effects to generate.
Cooking. This may sound basic but knowing how to prepare meals from scratch will help insure that your efforts in the garden don’t go to waste.
A good cook can turn raw ingredients into a healthy, nutritious meal and without this skill, your vegetables may not have the same glamorous appeal after the fourth or fifth serving of straight beets, corn or peas. A good eye for herbs, seasonings, and complimentary foods will go a long way in a successful homestead and a happy, well-fed household.
Beekeeping. Apiaries are easy to start and at times can be easy to maintain. Some consider bee behavior and management to be a daunting endeavor, but the benefits are well worth it.
Bees provide essential pollination, they help to indicate success, and they provide a bounty of sweet honey that can complement your pantry or your medicine cabinet.
Most ranch and home stores carry bee boxes and beekeeping supplies, and some county extension offices will provide contacts for other beekeepers who can help to collect queens or swarms and get you started on the right foot.
Fermentation. Whether you intend to ferment food or drink, basics of fermentation are essential for successful preservation. This skill is easy to learn and requires an initial investment of bottles, jars or large glass containers.
But once you have the equipment, the rest is easy. Fermentation can provide a homestead with preserves like sauerkraut or pickles, adult beverages like beer or fruit wines, and even sweet carbonated drinks like kombucha or sodas that are great alternatives to store bought soft drinks.
Are you starting a homestead from scratch? What did your homestead plan look like? What will be YOUR first homestead addition to your property? Be sure to pin this for later!