When people think of homesteading, a Little House on the Prairie sort of thing often comes to mind — acreage, a rustic little home, and a lot of skills that few people possess anymore. It’s intimidating and, for many, even impossible to homestead like that. Not everyone can afford to move into the country on 100 acres, after all.
Thankfully, homesteading does not have to look like that at all.
Any urban or suburban home has the potential to become a little homestead, even if you only have a fraction of an acre to work with.
Now, I’m not promising that you’re going to be able to keep cows and goats on 1/5 of an acre. Some things do just need space to be possible, and larger animals are among those things. You’re also not going to be able to grow huge plots of corn or grain, and depending on your city’s zoning laws and your family’s situation you may not even be able to keep chickens. None of that means you can’t homestead.
So what can I do to homestead in a regular house and yard?
Well, to be honest, there are a lot of options, and how many you choose to do all depends on your home, your interests, and limitations such as zoning laws and neighbors. I probably won’t even be able to include all of the possibilities here.
Plant a Garden
This one seems pretty obvious. Most yards have at least one spot that can house a small garden, even if it’s a few pots of your favorite veggies on the front porch. That’s that many veggies that you don’t have to buy at the store, after all, and well-tended plants can produce a surprising amount of food.
The more space you have, the more you can plant. There’s winter gardening options, particularly if you have a greenhouse to protect the overwintered veggies from extreme weather. Berries, full-sized fruit trees, or dwarf fruit trees (which can move when you do if you don’t plan on staying at your home for a long time) are also great options that can go right along with your landscaping. Medicinal and edible herbs can be grown along decorative borders, in windowsills, or in containers. Essentially, the possibilities are huge when it comes to growing some practical plants, and the more ideal garden space you have the more options you can embrace.
Plants also don’t have to be edible or medicinal to be good options for a homesteader. Cultivating good wildlife is important too, so choose some bee or butterfly friendly flowers for your front yard next spring. Just remember to be careful with pesticide and herbicide use if you want to bring in the good critters.
For our home, there’s a perfect side yard that gets enough summer sun that will become my garden, possibly this coming spring (I’m not 100% committed to a 2016 garden since there’s going to be a new baby this spring as well). I’m also looking at putting things like berry bushes, a couple of fruit trees, and some herbs and wildlife-friendly flowers over the next couple of years.
Keep Bees and Attract Good Wildlife
Even if you don’t want to actually keep bee hives, getting a bee condo for mason bees is a good options. However, keeping honeybee hives is a great option and doesn’t require a lot of space. Talk to your neighbors about their pesticide use if you want to do this though. If all of your neighbors are using products poisonous to your bees, you’re going to have a lot of dead bees every year.
You can also plant flowers friendly to bees, butterflies, and birds, keep bird feeders and baths clean and full, put up bird houses, bat houses, bee condos, and lady bug condos, and generally make your yard a haven for beneficial critters.
A mesh compost bin is fairly inexpensive at your local garden supply store. You can also make one relatively inexpensively, or get a more expensive and durable option. No matter what method you choose to use, limiting and reusing your waste is a perfect homesteading option, and it goes right into that garden you’re planting.
Keep Some Meat and/or Egg Animals
No, I’m not talking about keeping a herd of cows on a quarter acre. It just doesn’t work that way. I am talking about smaller animals like chickens, ducks, quail, or rabbits. Usually quail and rabbits are ideal for people whose cities don’t allow larger birds to be kept in the city or whose neighbors are opposed to the idea due to the noise the birds can sometimes make.
Set Up Water Catchment
If its legal in your area (it is in mine), set up a water catchment system. This is especially great if you save the water from a rainy spring to be used to water your garden in hot summer months; depending on how big your system is, you can save money on hundreds of gallons of water in the months that tend to see the most water usage. Relatively simple water catchment systems can be set up with 50 gallon barrels and a few other relatively inexpensive materials; you’ll just need space near your drain spouts to set them up.
Rethink Your Kitchen Use
Have you ever driven passed a local farm and seen u-pick berry deals in the summertime? Or perhaps the garden you planted has been very productive. Learning to can goes a long way. You’ll need to learn water bath canning for fruits, berries, and jams, and pressure canning for vegetables, meats, and other low-acid foods. Food preservation can also extend to learning to freeze or store foods efficiently, which lets you buy in bulk, which is often a cheaper option in the long run.
That’s not all a homesteading kitchen can do, of course. Learning to cook from scratch, especially with the food you’re growing, can reduce the grocery bill, make you and your family healthier, and allow you to get creative with things like making your own cheeses.
Become a DIY-er
I’m not saying that you should tackle huge projects beyond your capabilities. You probably want an actual electrician to do the wiring for your remodel or a plumber to fix the sewage problem. I’m not saying that you can’t learn how to do any electrical work or plumbing if you don’t do it professionally, mind you; I’m saying that discernment and realism is important. Even if you are more or less capable of doing certain things, sometimes hiring a professional is still worth it because they’ll do it quicker and they (should) guarantee that it’s done right the first time or they’ll fix it right away. It can save a lot of heartbreak and be worth every dollar.
However, there are a lot of skills completely within the ability of the average person to learn that won’t put you or your home at risk. You may have to put in a lot more sweat equity or deal with it not being as perfect, but it can be worth it. Again, use discernment.
It’s not just about large projects, though; doing it yourself can mean making your own health, beauty, and cleaning products in order to save money and to be sure there aren’t any ingredients you aren’t comfortable having in your home. It can mean being prepared for many likely situations, from bug bites to power outages. It can mean knowing some natural remedies for non-serious illnesses. It can mean a lot of things, and the possibilities are nearly limitless. Many of these projects can be fairly inexpensive and easy to do.
So when will you start?
No, really. If homesteading in your own urban/suburban setting is so do-able, when will you start? Even if it’s just by surveying your yard to find where you want to put in a garden next spring or buying some candle-making ingredients off Amazon, you can start sooner rather than later. Please share with me how your first adventures in homesteading go!