The Homesteading Primer: A Quick Guide to Small-Scale Homesteading
If pandemics have taught us anything, it’s how important it is to keep a functional home and take the necessary steps to create your own food supply chain.
With many jumping on the homesteading bandwagon, it’s important to know the facts because there are challenges when it comes to creating a homestead. On a personal note, I chose to start a homestead because I was tired of living a life in a dependency-driven system and wanted to make more sustainable choices. But it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It takes a lot of work, patience in learning new skills, open-mindedness, and wherewithal. Not everything goes as planned and there are a lot of mistakes that can be made along the way. Gardens die or are invaded by pests, livestock can become injured or ill, they can be attacked or wander off, and sometimes, even though you put your best foot forward, it still doesn’t work out. You have to plan for this and as the preppers say, “have backups for your backups.” That said, there is nothing like being greeted by your livestock each morning or picking buckets of fresh vegetables you grew, and for that matter, canning those glorious harvests. For the last ten years, we have been living this lifestyle and as challenging as it can be, it’s the life for me.
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Planning Your Homegrown Food Supply
If you are still ready to take a journey into a self-reliant lifestyle, here are some fundamentals, homesteading tool suggestions, tricks, and further reading you can do for research so you can put your best foot forward. To create a homegrown food supply, you don’t need sprawling acreage. You can use what land you have to the best of your ability. In fact, many urban dwellers are creating a miniature homestead on 1/4 acre or less. Two of my favorite homesteading books I used to start my own little homestead are:
Above all, keep the number of family members in mind when you are planning out your dream homestead and the activities you plan on doing. Depending on how far you want to take your homesteading dreams, there are a lot of homestead activities you can work on: personal or market gardening, small livestock, butchering, cheese making, soap making, woodworking, metalworking, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and even home brewing. Knowing what you want to achieve will help you plan.
Are you single? Have children? Living with additional family members? All of this matters when you in the planning phase. For instance, plan on raising one chicken per family member to have enough eggs. As well, plan on how much food to grow. Learn how many vegetable plants to grow per person here.
Taking the square feet of your yard or land and planning it out will help you utilize every inch of space. Speaking of space, if you are planning to preserve your food sources, make sure you have organized the pantry to accommodate the influx of home goods when the time comes. After all, the overall goal is to have a functional home.
Get your garden growing!
Put thought into what your homestead plan is. If you want to grow a year’s supply of vegetables, think about the amount of space and plants you will need to take this plan to fruition. As well, if you have never gardened, start with a small garden growing some of the easier vegetables and continue to expand each growing season. If you are short on space, look into container or patio gardening. As well, consider starting a compost pile to help your trash become soil amendments for future gardens. Check out our chicken crap composting guide.
Buy some fruit trees. I realize that there are some who do not have enough backyard space for a fruit orchard, but if you get the right type of fruit tree, you won’t need a lot of space. Look around locally to find quality dwarf variety fruit trees that are self-fertile and you can train them to be small but abundant. Self-fertile dwarf variety fruit trees can easily become prolific producers and begin to bear fruit in two to three years after planting.
Those who are starting out small or are living on smaller acreage can include micro livestock breeds like rabbits, chickens, guinea fowl, or even fish for hydroponics. A great backyard breed for beginner homesteaders is chickens. Aside from the initial investment of purchasing a brooder lamp, feeders, waters, and feed, they are relatively inexpensive. As well, they provide meat, eggs, and nitrogen-rich fertilizer. These are some of the most popular breeds to start with. Make sure you provide an adequate amount of space for your flock. The minimum rule of thumb is about 2 to 3 square feet per chicken inside the chicken coop, and 8 to 10 square feet per chicken in an outside run. Of course more square footage is better because skimping on space requirements for a flock of chickens can cause stress, cannibalism, pecking, and sometimes even death.
As well, I like that I can give chickens kitchen scraps instead of throwing them away. They are, by far, the easiest livestock choice to start out with. As long as you give them a place to roost at night and bugs and grass to eat, they basically take care of themselves. I also recommend raising quail or rabbits. They are perfect for those living in close proximity to neighbors because they make no noise. Some breeds are not tolerant to excessive heat, so research the breeds beforehand. Read more about micro livestock here.
A word to the wise: if your livestock is not properly protected, predators like raccoons, hawks, opossum, skunk, dog, coyotes, or worse can attack and kill your livestock if they are not secured. Having a livestock guardian dog or animal like a donkey or llama that stays with the livestock will alert you to if your flock comes under attack.
Growing Livestock Food
A way to supplement on the cost of livestock feed is to make or grow your own feed. For instance, growing a patch of Timothy Hay would be a wonderful treat for rabbits. We had pots of millet growing for the chickens to peck on when they were let out of the coop to forage. If you choose to make your own feed, you will be surprised at home many of the livestock foods use the same ingredients. Here are some feed mixes we have used in the past.
Having the right tools to turn to can help you be more efficient with homesteading chores. One tool that my husband swears by is the Echo Pro Attachment Series. It’s an expandable multi-task tool that gives you the versatility you are looking for homesteading. When your job requires a change, a simple tool-less coupler makes changing to another tool quick and easy. As well, on our homestead, we have an ample supply of the following to help us keep up the property.
- Buckets – 5-gallon buckets are a must on the homestead
- Work boots
- log cutter
- Weed eater
If you plan on raising livestock, building enclosures will be important and require certain tools. Do some research to find the type of enclosure you want to build. There are simple plans for using wood crates or elaborate animal sheds. It’s all up to you!
Learn To Use Everything
Homesteading is the ultimate step toward sustainable living. For those who are environmentally conscious, when you grow your own food supply, you use less gas when traveling to and from the store. As well, your carbon footprint reduces because you are using your own land to grow food. When you are growing your own food supplies, but you are also utilizing the whole process. Waste products like feces, blood, feathers, and powdered bones can be composted to make a rich soil amendment for the garden. As well, vegetable scraps can be chopped down and added to the compost or earthworm bin for further amendments.
Vegetables that grow to seed can be collected and stored for the next season or allowed to dry out so beneficial insects can use them as winter homes.
Work with nature, not against it
Finding the right animal breeds that thrive in your neck of the woods will help your homestead thrive. As well, consider planting native perennials around your home. Not only will they attract beneficial pollinators for the garden but they help to create a sustainable growing system (look for plants that can be grown as feed for your animals) that creates regionally appropriate landscaping, conserves water, and reduces your water bill. This type of landscaping called xeriscaping is both economical and more realistic in maintaining. An added benefit is compared to typical landscaping, it can reduce landscape water use by 50-75%!
With the concerns over the future, homesteading could be the answer to becoming less dependent on the system. As well, this is a great hobby the entire family can enjoy and learn from at the same time. Even though there are certain challenges, once you find your groove, the experience never stops teaching us better ways to live.
This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on June 3rd, 2020