Start a Homestead: For Beginners
Many people in the U.S. have recently found themselves with lots of spare time on their hands. They've also realized they don't need to go to the office every day to do their jobs. This change in work habits has provided tens of thousands of Americans with the opportunity to find ways to live healthier, happier lives from home.
Amidst shortages of common items in grocery stores, reports of overseas hackers shutting down meat production facilities, and a general increase in the cost of food, a large number of people have started to wonder about whether homesteading is the answer.
Homesteading is a lot of work, but the results can certainly be worth it. If you've thought about what it would be like to have a homestead but aren't sure where to begin or what is involved, you've found the perfect article. We'll discuss how to start a self-sufficient homestead that will save money and give you the lifestyle you've always wanted.
Beginner's Guide to Homesteading
When our nation was in its infancy, homesteading laws were a way the government encouraged people to move west. Any person simply had to file an application, make improvements on the land, and file for a deed to take over unoccupied space. The laws prevented creditors from taking the property, protecting thousands of families from becoming homeless during times of economic downturn.
Today the term refers to a property that is as close to self-sufficiency as possible. Owners often plant fruit trees, develop a garden, and raise animals so that they require as few products as possible from the stores. Homesteaders find ways to reduce their dependence of manufactured products and often learn to do complicated skills like butchering or welding so they are less reliant on other people.
Common Homesteading Activities
The idea behind homesteading is to create a system of sufficiency that provides food and resources on a year-round basis without relying on buying more supplies. Let's briefly look at some of the common activities homesteaders do and how these tasks can lead into greater self-sufficiency for anyone.
One of the first things you'll want to do to establish your homestead is to develop a garden. A productive garden doesn't need to be huge – you can do quite well in the average front yard – but keep in mind that some crops will require plenty of space. Grains in particular require lots of room because you'll need to grow lots of plants. For example, it takes about one acre of barley to produce one 30 gallon barrel of beer. Corn, on the other hand, can be planted very close together to produce big yields from small spaces.
Unlike your average garden, a homestead garden seeks to create a perpetual cycle of growth. To accomplish this task, you'll want to plant crops differently than you ordinarily would.
- Succession Planting: This trick is actually an ancient way of maximizing harvests. Simply plant the first batch of seeds spaced fairly far apart, then plant again in a few weeks, and again in a few weeks after that, filling in the gaps between the plants as you go. This way, the first crops will be ready to harvest while the next plant is maturing. You'll get multiple harvests throughout the season this way without ending up with too many of one thing all at once.
- Beneficial Planting: Every plant you grow uses nutrients from the soil. Growing the same crop for too many years will eventually "kill" the soil and prevent anything from growing until nutrients are replaced. This phenomenon played a big role in the Dust Bowl in the 1930's. Varying crops helps to prevent nutrient depletion and you can even use certain crops to enhance the soil year after year. For example, beans will modify nitrogen in the soil, creating a form that is more easily absorbed. Many plants can be mulched into the soil for nutrients. You can even arrange your planting so that spring crops benefit fall crops that benefit winter crops and so on.
- Food Preservation: One of the most important parts of homestead gardening is that you are trying to feed yourself and your family. The only way to do this year round is to find ways to preserve food. Depending on how your homestead is set up, this can mean freezing, canning, pickling, or drying. A proper homestead will always have a supply of preserved food on hand in case of trying times. Preserving your harvest is surprisingly easy and a great way to have delicious fruits and vegetables all year.
Raising your own animals can be a great way to have a constant supply of fresh meat that will taste better and be healthier than almost anything you can buy in the store. Some types of animals require more space than others, making livestock like cattle impractical for many people. You'll also want to check the local laws in your area. Some types of animals are restricted, particularly in urban areas, and most areas will have regulations concerning slaughtering of animals on your property.
The good news is that you don't have to have a huge ranch in Texas to raise your own livestock for food. There are several types of animals that can be raised on small farms or even in your backyard.
- Goats and Sheep: Both goats and sheep provide numerous benefits to the homesteader. Milk from goats and sheep is nutritious once you get use to the flavor. Goat and sheep wool can be useful for making cloth. Hides are an excellent source of buttery soft leather. Properly cooked, goat and sheep meat can be among the most delicious you'll have. You'll need about 250 square feet of space per animal. Feeding goats from your garden is a great way to encourage natural eating habits and improve their health.
- Rabbits: Rabbits are one of the best small-space opportunities for producing food. They don't require very much space, tend to do well in colonies, and provide meat and fur. They'll also happily eat many of the things you grow in your garden. Rabbits are very easy to breed, making them an ideal food source that is packed with nutrients and protein. You'll need about three square feet per rabbit and a way to separate males and females.
- Chickens, Ducks, and Game Birds: In the last few years, many areas have relaxed laws that prevented people living in urban and suburban areas from keeping chickens and other fowl. There are numerous breeds that make ideal homesteading animals. Certain breeds of chickens will lay up to two eggs a day while others will grow to ten pounds in only six weeks. Birds are omnivorous, meaning they eat both living and growing things. A couple of birds will decimate bug populations, but they'll also go after your garden when they get a chance. Some birds, like quail and bobwhite require only a small space, reproduce quickly, and are quite delicious.
- Fish: Raising fish for food doesn't require a pond or lake, but you will need to build a rather larger container that holds water. This is most easily done with a pool liner and large troughs. Some of the most popular fish for homesteading are tilapia, cod, and catfish. These animals do well in groups and grow quickly. Fish is the best source of omega-3 fatty acids and is a particularly healthy protein source. An aquaponics system will feed your fish and the wastewater will nourish your garden, creating a food cycle.
Preserving Food for Self Sufficiency
You'll want to learn as many different ways of preserving your food as possible. Some things like beans and peas are simple – just dry them and keep them in the dark. Others are more difficult – like preserving meat. Canning and pickling are excellent ways to preserve fruits and vegetables and are both very simple to do at home without much special equipment. You can learn to make smoked sausage or jerky from fresh meat to help preserve proteins for long periods of time.
How Much Money Does it Cost to Start Homesteading?
One of the best things you can do if you want to start homesteading is to start small. This also helps to save you money. For example, if you buy heirloom seeds in a package, you'll get enough seeds for two or more seasons. If you allow your crop to go to seed at the end of the season, you can harvest enough seed from one plant to grow that crop for several years. If you start small and expand your homestead a little at a time, you'll have a better chance at long-term success because you won't get overwhelmed. Homesteading is hard work, after all.
One of the things that is particularly common among homesteaders is the willingness to barter and trade. This is a great way to save money and get things you want that you don't produce. For example, if you raise chickens or ducks and live in a place where you can't slaughter them, you may be able to barter with someone who lives in an area that allows it. You may even be able to trade a chicken or two in exchange for butchering. Social media groups are a great place to meet homesteaders in your area and share tips, tricks, and skills.
How Much Land Do You Need?
Land is often the biggest obstacle to homesteading. While a small yard may produce enough food to sustain two or three people, it often isn't enough for long-term solutions. There are lots of ways around a lack of space, so don't be deterred from your homesteading dreams.
You can use hanging baskets for growing vegetables, cucumbers, strawberries, and lots of other things. Rabbit cages can be built so that you can house plenty of rabbits in a relatively small area. Some popular homestead animals like chickens will provide enough benefit from only a few animals in a small coop.
It's always a good idea to plan small when you start a homestead. You can always build bigger as your homesteading operation grows.
Beginners Guide to Self-Sufficient Homesteading Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: How do I start homesteading?
- A: The first step is to identify what your goals will be. If you want to raise animals and grow produce, you'll need to determine how much space you have available. One of the best ways to start homesteading is small herb gardens. These can be on the windowsill or in small boxes. You'll learn many of the basics about how to garden for your homestead growing herbs.
- Q: Can you run a homestead by yourself?
- A: Whether you can handle the entire homestead single handed will depend on how big of a homesteading operation you build. If you are raising livestock, growing a large garden, and processing everything yourself, you'll likely need help at times to get everything done. If you start small with a goal of a self-sufficient homestead, your operation will be easier to manage.
- Q: What states allow homesteading?
- A: In the modern sense of the word, homesteading refers to a way of life rather than anything else so it isn't something the government directly restricts. Many states have laws in place that will protect a declared homestead from tax laws. And if you are interested in traditional homesteading, check out Kansas and Nebraska – you might just find free land in need of homesteading.
- Q: What skills do you need to homestead?
- A: The skills you'll need will depend on the way your homestead operates. You might need to know how and when to plant or harvest, or you might need to know how to pluck and gut a duck. Most of these skills aren't hard to learn, but will take practice to get right. The most important skill you'll need is the ability to work hard and not give up. Homesteading can be very rewarding, but it can also be a daunting challenge of never-ending work, too.
Final Thoughts on Homesteading for Beginners
The idea of homesteading is often romanticized with notions of relaxing on the veranda, ice tea at hand while fluffy sheep frolic in the front yard and chickens cackle in the backyard. The reality is that homesteading is hard work. It requires a lot of planning and dedication. You can't take a day off because the plants and animals you raise on your land depend on you. But if you find other people interested in the homesteader life, you can often make your dreams come true.